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The mind of the broker

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Health insurance exchange managers who are sincere about winning over brokers will have to find ways to overcome brokers’ belief that the exchange program will be plagued by “rigidity and dysfunction.”

Mary Sienko, the marketing director at the Minnesota Health Insurance Exchange (HIX), came to that conclusion in a broker research report prepared for exchange managers.

Sienko based the report on in-person and online focus group organized by communication specialists at Salter Mitchell. SalterMitchell picked the brains of 37 Minnesota brokers who said they were at least willing to consider working with an exchange. The market researchers said they wanted to understand the “needs states” that would drive the brokers’ behavior.

Sienko said in her report that the research showed the importance of Minnesota exchange managers being careful about how they talk to brokers.

“Avoid qualitative judgments,” Sienko said in the report. “Don’t say something will be ‘good’ or ‘helpful’; show it.”

Sienko advised exchange managers to “stick to what you know for sure.”

Saying the HIX is an “option” is better than saying the HIX is a “good” option, for example, because everyone can agree that the HIX is a new option, Sienko said.

“Consider unintended messages,” Sienko added. “Brokers are listening for anything that intimates new clues about compensation, choice, or competition. Consider what conclusions they might draw from statements that don’t appear to address those issues.”

When the researchers looked at brokers’ reactions to specific sample messages, they found the brokers liked messages acknowledging the role of brokers, and messages that emphasized concrete new options and advantages, such as the idea that the HIX would help employer clients get just one bill.

The brokers disliked messages expressing judgments that the brokers did not share, such as the idea that the state Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) exchange will present a “good opportunity,” and messages that made factual claims that brokers dispute.

The Minnesota exchange managers may think “Small businesses can save up to 7.5 percent off premium costs by purchasing health insurance for their employees through the exchange” is a factual statement, but brokers do not, according to Sienko.

Sienko said brokers also disliked messages indicating that the Minnesota HIX might move into new areas, such as dental insurance, and messages emphasizing the role of government.

For brokers, “Minnesota is taking control of the decisions, and the decisions being made are in the best interest of all Minnesotans, including businesses,” is not a popular message, Sienko said.

Siekers said the Minnesota brokers included in the focus groups also would like:

  • HIX resources to be available in Hmong — a Cambodian language — as well as in Spanish. Some brokers also said they see a need for HIX services being offered in Somali, Russian and Arabic.
  • A HIX phone line and a HIX e-mail services designed specifically for brokers.
  • The ability to help clients apply to multiple HIX carriers using one form.
  • A plan coverage area map built into the exchange website system. One popular extra would be having the coverage map show the in-network clinics and hospitals in the coverage area. 

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