Health Insurance Marketplace Holds Smaller Choices in 2017

November 11, 2016
Open Enrollment sales prospects

Open Enrollment sales prospectsInsurance agents know the ACA Marketplace holds smaller choices for health insurance leads shopping for their 2017 coverage. What you may not know is the extent of the situation for this year’s Open Enrollment sales prospects.

A Look at the Illinois Marketplace

A recent post from the St. Louis Business Journal about next-door neighbor Illinois is indicative:

Only one or two insurance companies will sell coverage in 2017 in the Illinois health marketplace established by the Affordable Care Act in 75 percent of the state’s counties, the Illinois Department of Insurance said.

Several counties across the state, including east of St. Louis and north of Chicago, will only have one insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield, selling Marketplace plans. It wasn’t always like this.

Because of emerging pitfalls of the Obamacare program, including guaranteed issue rules, missed signup targets for younger and healthier folks, and too many older and sicker health insurance customers, insurers are bowing out to cut their losses or going out of business altogether. Says the Journal:

In Illinois, four insurers have exited or folded, leaving five companies in operation, according to the news agency. Insurers didn’t get the payments from the federal government they were counting on, and sicker patients and higher prescription costs contributed to insurers’ losses, Illinois Department of Insurance Acting Director Anne Melissa Dowling told the AP.

The numbers of affected individuals is staggering:

Some 70,000 Illinois residents who were covered by marketplace plans will need to enroll in new health plans next year because their carrier has withdrawn from the market, according to the news agency.

The article ends with the detail that Illinois will be employing as many as 600 temporary workers to help these folks find a new Marketplace plan or answer other coverage questions.

So what does this mean for your cold calling plans for health insurance leads? Plenty.

Three Plans for Health Insurance Agents

Agents selling during this difficult environment can do three things to stand out, get more health insurance leads on board, and make the most of this year’s Open Enrollment.

1. Service Is Your Competitive Advantage

Since insurance sellers can’t compete on price in today’s environment, customer-centered service is going to have to take center stage. While a customer-centric approach may take more work and sharpened skills, it’s a sustainable approach for the long term.

There are three keys. Find your prospect’s “hidden” problem then offer solutions. But don’t just offer any solution. Above and beyond solutions are worth their weight in gold to consumers. You’ll be around for the long haul if you can offer value. And lastly, let your customer define service excellency, then meet them there.

2. Define Your Unique Selling Proposition

I do hate to break it to you, but you’re not the only agent reading this. Customer-centered service will take you far, but you’ll need to define a distinct USP to capture the interest of new leads in a sea of agents.

Ask yourself what makes you truly different from your competitors, what you can offer that is unique, adds value, and fulfills customer needs, and why a prospect should choose you. Your marketing strategy should address your USP angle top to bottom. Make sure your prospects know why they’d be a fool to choose anyone else.

3. Consider Stop-Gap Solutions

Customers with lots of options, fewer existing health problems, and disposable income are the easy ones. You may get some of these customers this Open Enrollment, but many customers have one or more unique challenges that must be overcome to close the sale.

In a case like Illinois, some customers may exit the exchange because their policy was cancelled and not have many good options on the open market. Think outside the box. As a stop-gap, short-term medical won’t keep your prospect from having to pay an Obamacare coverage penalty, but it could provide basic coverage that works for the here and now. Also keep an eye on your state’s Medicaid issues. Expansion could be a factor in what options are available to your prospect.

Closing Thoughts

If you had in mind a nice quiet Open Enrollment this fall, you’re definitely going to be in for some surprises. This is a dynamic time for health insurance and with the election it looks like we’ll be in for more changes down the line. For this fall, focus on how you can best market to and serve your customers and think outside the box for solutions to suit your prospects’ needs.

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