The Challenge of Choosing: Qualitative Research Reveals Senior Attitudes about Medicare


December is full of deadlines.

Companies have to tie up business for year end, employees have to choose or augment healthcare plans and the man in the red suit has to finish his nice and naughty list. The holiday season adds more stress to these important end of year decisions.

By December 7th, seniors, age 65+, had to make changes to their Medicare plans for the 2015 year. People new to the senior cohort just finished sorting through the Medicare plans for the first time. How did they do? This is the type of information gathered from focus groups, in depth interviews and other qualitative research methods.

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When conducting qualitative research, seniors might be asked questions like “How do you like your health insurance plan?” One trend I’ve seen is that a typical answer is along the lines of “I don’t know”. For most seniors, that answer won’t change until they’ve used the plan they’ve selected. This could be months down the road.

So why don’t seniors know if they chose the right plan for them? What’s missing? Likely it is because they don’t understand the plans offered from the different insurance providers – but the reason behind the lack of understanding isn’t what you might think.

If you don’t know something, how do you learn it? Information. Google. Ask an expert. But in the case of seniors and Medicare, they are dealing with information overload. Information about Medicare and choosing a healthcare plan is everywhere. On the TV, on the radio, in their mailbox, straight from the mouths of their loved ones, shared between peers in their community; there is more and more information everywhere they turn.

There’s also no question why there is so much information – competition between insurance companies and newly created online brokers, targeted marketing etc. But the sheer amount of choice isn’t making seniors feel free.

It is in fact doing the opposite. Seniors feel so overwhelmed with information that they are likely to just choose a plan, any plan, to “get it over with” without really knowing what they are signing up for. They feel trapped into making a decision before the deadline that may not be in their best interest. In fact, it is in no one’s best interest.

This is what I mean:

Once seniors sign up for a Medicare plan that they aren’t sure of, that insurance provider’s customer service center gets bogged down with questions about the plan. Doctors’ offices are also seeing the same phenomenon when dealing with seniors and Medicare. Constantly answering “Is this covered” is taking time away from the service doctors’ offices need to be focused on. For this reason, insurance companies and hospitals and clinics have a vested interest in freeing themselves from the phone calls that “Medicare uncertainty” causes.

How can this problem be solved? The answer is clearly not more information, but perhaps a different way of delivering it. I feel there is a huge opportunity for healthcare organizations to improve the user experience to make finding the right information easy. Through qualitative research methods, it’s possible to reveal these opportunities.


These are the kind of insights that we help clients gain from SmartBase Solutions Qualitative Research.

Would understanding consumer attitudes like these benefit your organization? Is Qualitative the right research method for you?

Download our guide on how to choose the right research method for your marketing efforts.

Dec, 16, 2014

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