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Who is the customer in health care? Hint: It's Not You

The definition of a customer

More and more employers are transitioning from group-based health insurance to individual-based health coverage for their employees.  To prepare for this, carriers have brought on new executives from industries such as hospitality.

Why hospitality?  Because hospitality executives grew up in cultures where individuals are the customer, and so treating individuals well was crucial for survival.  Carriers want to learn from these people.

One insurance carrier contact of mine shared with me how her company’s new “hospitality” executive has taught her team the difference between the “customer” and the “consumer”:

  1. Customer: Pays for the product/service
  2. Consumer: Uses the product/service

Historically in healthcare, employers have been the ones who pay.  They’ve been the customer.  People like you and me have just been the lowly consumer.  Sure, us consumers couldn’t be treated too poorly or we would complain to our employer.  Too many complaints, and our employer would take action like only an almighty customer can take and change insurance carriers.

Don't be angry

If reading this makes you angry at the insurance carriers for not treating you like a customer, your anger is misdirected.  It’s not the health insurance carrier’s fault that the employer is the customer and not you.  Remember, the definition of customer is black and white -- it’s whoever pays.  It’s not the health insurance carrier’s fault that the employers pay.  Employers paying is just the result of what were surely good intentions when the government gave a massive tax incentive for employers to offer group health insurance coverage to their employees.

The bottom line for healthcare industry participants is that these tax law incentives are changing.  It's not just Health Savings Acccounts, which have now been around for almost ten years.  With healthcare reform, even more of the tax incentives are changing.  As employers respond by transitioning to individual plans for their employees, people like you and me become not just the lowly consumer, but also the almighty customer! 

This is having far-reaching effects on the industry, effects that are set to accelerate. If you've seen some of these effects first-hand, please reach out and share your story.

This article originally appeared in the March 24th edition of The Tennessean.

You might also like: Achieving transparency in health care is no easy task.

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