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AHIP: Payers Make Consumers Their Focal Point

Christopher Cheney, for HealthLeaders Media, June 17, 2014

Consumers cast a long shadow over this year's America's Health Insurance Plans Institute annual conference, with speaker after speaker advising insurers how to come to grips with the retail revolution in the healthcare industry.

When it comes to selling health insurance, employers are no longer the only game in town as individuals increasingly become their own purchasing agents on health insurance exchanges.

The shift from wholesale to retail was a dominant theme at this year's America's Health Insurance Plans Institute conference in Seattle June 11–13, with at least one speaker expressing a dire warning for payers.

"It's not coming; it's here. And if you haven't already started reacting, it's probably too late," Ingrid Lindberg, chief customer experience officer at Eagan, MN-based Prime Therapeutics, said after presenting her session on "Building Relationships and Driving Loyalty. "The world is cracking open and most people don't have a clue… People are scared."

The health insurance industry is in danger of suffering the same fate that befell pension funds, said Lindberg, drawing a parallel to how after passage Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, the financial industry moved slowly, but surely, from a wholesale model featuring employer-sponsored pensions to a retail model dominated by 401(k) retirement plans.

The pension firms that failed to adapt paid dearly. "None of those companies survived," she said. "Just look at how much faster [healthcare] is moving. It took 20 to 25 years to unfold in the finance industry. It's going to take about 10 years in healthcare."

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