KBM divides health consumers into six segments. (LHP Graphic/Allison Bell)

Taking marketing basics more seriously could help health insurers improve the well being of their customers as well as their own finances.

Lindsay Resnick, chief marketing officer for health services at KBM Group, Richardson, Texas, a data analysis firm, delivered that message recently in Salt Lake City during a session at a meeting organized by America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), Washington.

Resnick, a veteran health insurance strategist, told health insurance company executives at the session that they have to get serious about using all of the databses and analytical tools that are now available to segment consumers and find ways to attract those consumers to individually sold or individually enrolled plans, keep them in the plans, and inspire them to take better care of their health.

Twenty years ago, major medical insurers focused on working through brokers to sell to employers.

Now, Resnick said, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) changes seem likely to increase the percentage of consumers who will be signing up for their own coverage – entirely on their own, through an exchange, or through an employer’s menu of coverage options.

Meanwhile, PPACA medical loss ratio rules and customers’ resistance to rate increases are putting pressure on insurers to improve consumer communications in ways that will reduce claims’ costs by getting consumers to see doctors, get the recommended screenings and follow treatment recommendations, Resnick said.

Resnick said firms like KBM can help health insurers segment consumers using the same kinds of variables businesses in other industries would use, such as a consumer’s age, income, educational level, attitude, and likely behavior.

Today, Resnick said, a health insurer will also want to look at factors such as a consumer’s use of cell phones, computers and other digital devices.

“What kind of digital devices are they using, and what are they doing on those devices?” Resnick asked during a telephone interview after the session.

KBM, for example, has come up with a system for segmenting health insurance and health care consumers into six different groups. Members of two of the groups probably have health insurance and much-used wellnes aps, and members of a third group are probably too poor and desperate to respond very well to marketing messages.

But members of the three other groups — a group of skeptics, a group of risk avoiders, and a group of young, stressed parents — may respond best to three completely different kinds of communication strategies, Resnick said.

The AHIP session attracted about 250 people, and Resnick said during the interview that he believes the level of attendance reflected a shift in health insurance company attitudes.

“People are getting the message that they have to pay better attention to the customer, with or without health reform,” Resnick said.

The health insurance needs to act, because surveys by Forrester, for example, show that the health insurance industry ranks at or near the bottom of the pack in terms of consumer experience, Resnick said.

Because communication is so poor and the level of confusion is so great, a majority of consumers say they have no idea what their care will cost or how to manage the cost, Resnick said.

“If we ask consumers to shop for benefits and engage in their health care decisions, they need support about how to make smart, individualized choices,” Resnick said.

The solution, Resnick said, is to reinvent “CRM” — “customer relationship management” — and make it stand for “customers really matter.”