The New York Times by Tanzina Vega –
September 02, 2013:
AS the country marches toward a new health insurance system, insurance companies have spent millions on consumer advertising to position themselves as health care companies.
But because a majority of Americans are insured through their employers, the insurance companies have to reach several audiences. Speaking to human resources professionals, health care providers and policy makers is still an important part of many insurance companies’ marketing plans.
Aetna, one of the largest of the companies, will introduce a new campaign on Tuesday aimed at those groups. It will highlight the company’s goal of cutting billions of dollars of expenditures through so-called Big Data, electronic health records and other technologies as well as encouraging better coordination among health care providers. The campaign, called “Our Healthy,” will run online, in print and on mobile devices through the end of 2013.
“We believe that the health care system is desperately in need of improvement,” said Robert Mead, the senior vice president of marketing, product and communications at Aetna. Mr. Mead cited a report by the Institute of Medicine that tallied more than $760 billion in health care “waste” created annually as a result of consumer fraud, unnecessary procedures and excessive administrative costs.
The campaign was created by OgilvyOne in New York and is an extension of a consumer campaign called “What’s Your Healthy?” that Aetna began earlier this year. Both “What’s Your Healthy?” and “Our Healthy” are part of a $50 million advertising and marketing strategy for the company.
“If you’re a consumer, you don’t know what things cost,” Mr. Mead said. “You don’t know what things are worth. You don’t always know how to get the most value out of the health system. We have to bring everybody to the table.”
Mr. Mead said the campaign also stressed the need for health care providers to shift to a model known as “accountable care,” which shifts their reimbursement models for health care professionals from being paid for the volume of services they perform to being paid based on the outcomes of patient care. Accountable care systems are usually linked to technologies that help health care providers measure performance and manage patient data. Aetna has 27 accountable health care agreements with hospitals and other health care providers around the country.
A video for the “Our Healthy” campaign features Mark T. Bertolini, the chief executive of Aetna, explaining the company’s goals. “Unless you fix that health care system, you cannot fix the economy,” Mr. Bertolini said in the video. “If we fix just 20 percent of it, we could pay for the Affordable Care Act. We could insure everyone without increasing taxes.”
Like other insurance companies, Aetna has over the last few years been ramping up its technical products and services. It created Healthagen, a division of the company that sells health technology services to consumers and providers, like a mobile application that helps patients assess their symptoms and find doctors.
“The fee-for-service model is broken,” Mr. Mead said. “The Affordable Care Act encourages the system to move to accountable care,” he added. “The challenge with that is that doctors and hospitals need technology and support to make that work.”
But more technology and more data may not solve the problem of waste in health care, said Robert S. Huckman, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and the faculty co-chairman of the Harvard Business School Healthcare Initiative. “When you’re talking about having to manage waste in the system, most would agree that a lack of coordination rests at the heart of a lot of it,” he said. “Data without an educated way of querying that data is not helpful. It is a start.”
While insurance companies like Aetna have access to vast amounts of patient data that could be used to manage costs, according to Mr. Huckman, the economic impact of even widely adopted technologies like electronic health records is still unclear. “Within providers and within a hospital, the electronic records have made greater inroads. But the question of moving toward greater coordination and greater interoperability is an issue we are still grappling with.”
The cost of health care, however, is something everyone can agree is too high, Mr. Huckman said: “I think the cost issue is most salient right now for most Americans. It hits you front and center when you look at some of the prices.” He noted how costs could vary widely depending on where a person lived and who their insurer was. “It shouldn’t vary that much,” Mr. Huckman said. “The cost of a product on Amazon is the same no matter where I buy it from. It does defy a little bit of explanation.”