As the summer draws to an end, my kids are gearing up to head back to school. In years past, procuring school supplies and getting together the requisite vaccination forms has been challenging, particularly as the start of the school season typically coincides with a ramp up in my business travel. But more recently, between online shopping and electronic health records, we have been able to get the items we need quickly and easily, even if we’re on the road. Now, after just a few clicks, we’ve sent medical forms to the county, school supplies to our third-grader’s classroom, and new clothes to our doorstep (for our increasingly fashion-conscious middle schooler).
My own “back to school” tradition is to get a flu shot. That process, too, has evolved. For the last several years, I’ve gotten my flu shot at Chicago O’Hare Airport. I find myself there regularly, I generally have time to spare, and the cost is reasonable. Naturally, I would hesitate to walk up to just any stranger at an airport and ask them to stick a needle in my arm, but the kiosk is staffed by a reputable institution. This is an important detail because brand matters to me.
Brand matters to many consumers, whether they’re shopping for cereal and clothes or for their health care provider. But, when it comes to health care, brand is just one part of the equation. As health care consumers begin to have more skin in the game, cost and value may play a larger role, especially for consumers on the individual market.
In June, Deloitte published the 2015 American Pantry Study. It examines factors that drive how American consumers shop when they head to the grocery store. While this study focused primarily on consumer behavior and attitudes about consumer packaged goods, the study’s findings become particularly interesting when contrasted with findings about enrollees in health insurance exchange (HIX) plans from the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions 2015 Survey of US Health Care Consumers.
As the HIXs mature and become a trusted option for people shopping on the individual market, the habits consumers have developed in other areas of their lives may have begun to impact the way they shop for health insurance coverage.
The findings above suggest that is already happening in several ways, especially among HIX enrollees. Many HIX enrollees look like grocery shoppers on a budget: They are tech savvy, cost-conscious, looking for better value, and willing to do some background research before they make a purchase. While many consumers turn to coupon cutting to cut costs and shopping apps to organize their grocery lists, many health care consumers are looking for apps and tools to help them enroll in coverage.
But, one distinction arises when you look at how brand impacts purchasing decisions in health care. Today, more than in recent years, consumers believe they are making a sacrifice when they purchase a store brand at the grocery store. But, at the height of the recent recession, cost mattered far more than brand to many consumers. So they made tradeoffs. As health care costs continue to grow, we may see consumers adopt more willingness to make similar tradeoffs in health care. There are some early signs that this is already happening. The percentage of insured enrollees who say that they would be willing to accept a smaller network of hospitals or doctors in exchange for lower payments rose from 2013 to 2015.
As these characteristics come to light and more people obtain coverage through HIXs or private exchanges, stakeholders may need a greater appreciation of the drivers of individual consumer choice. While brand may have carried the day in the past, people are increasingly looking for value—and that may mean different things to different people. As many retailers will tell you, understanding the drivers behind purchases and choices is critical to reaching a target market. Unless you satisfy the consumer’s needs, you risk losing them as a customer.
For me, the airport flu shot meets my value requirements – convenience and trust – so I expect to roll up my sleeve on my next layover. But, with my share of my own health care expenses rising, cost is becoming increasingly important, so I may start looking for high-value options as I travel. I wonder if anyone is doing colonoscopies at DFW?