Harris Interactive, a leading global market research firm, recently examined top U.S. health insurance companies in its 2010 EquiTrend study; the annual brand equity study measures more than 1,000 brands across 42 categories, including a battery of U.S. health insurance companies.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield ranks highest in overall brand equity in the health insurance industry. The second and third highest ranked health insurance companies are Aetna and United Healthcare, respectively.

Given the passage of health reform earlier year, more and more Americans will come face-to-face with the decision to choose a particular brand of health insurance for themselves and their families where previously, many simply chose the health insurance selected by their employer. In addition, as cost-shifting moves to patients and they assume more of their health expenses, consumers will likely reconsider the factors influencing their health care purchasing decisions.

Harris Interactive’s Strategic Health Perspectives found in its annual consumer survey that the percentage of consumers who made the choice to switch to a less expensive health insurance plan increased from 7 percent in 2008 to 11 percent in 2009. Strategic Health Perspectives forecasts future trends in the U.S. health care system by analyzing economic, political, social, technological, and marketplace forces among major industry stakeholders.

“Health care reform could benefit the insurance industry dramatically by generating billions of dollars of new revenue and millions of new customers. However, health insurers must change their marketing strategies if they are to remain competitive in this evolving market,” said Debra Richman, vice president of health care strategy at Harris Interactive. “Now, as health plans compete for business, as well as in future insurance exchanges, it is important that insurers focus on their brand and understand how their company is perceived by consumers who are making purchasing decisions. In addition, it is equally important for health insurers to retain their existing customers since attracting new clients can be a costly, lengthy process. Customers’ perceptions and brand equity are equally important in this scenario.”

In measuring consumer brand purchase consideration, Blue Cross/Blue Shield is also ranked the highest among health insurance companies, followed in second by United Healthcare and Aetna in third. Brand purchase consideration was determined by asking how likely a consumer would be to purchase a product or service.

“How do I, as a health care consumer, differentiate among competing health insurance companies when their products, benefits, and costs may be very similar?” said Richman. “I’m likely going to make a decision that is influenced by my perception of the company. Health insurers should understand how consumers may or may not connect with their brand and how that impacts a purchase decision, along with what may motivate a customer to remain loyal to an insurer rather than switch companies. As health insurers develop more of a ‘retail’ strategy, their approach will need to be increasingly targeted and consumer-friendly.”

Top 6 Ranked Health Insurance Brands

Score
Blue Cross/Blue Shield 56.82
Aetna 50.87
United Healthcare 49.95
Kaiser Permanente 48.59
CIGNA 47.90
Humana 44.25

Top 6 Ranked Health Insurance Brands in Purchase Consideration

Score
Blue Cross/Blue Shield 6.39
United Healthcare 5.64
Aetna 5.61
Kaiser Permanente 5.40
CIGNA 5.22
Humana 4.76

Source: Harris Interactive