(Originally published at EisenhowersLastSmoke.com on 7/24/2013)
I left my first meeting with the Director General of NSW Health and started walking as if I knew where I was going (which I definitely did not). It had turned into a warm and sunny day, and I strolled with purpose (which I absolutely did not have). Within minutes I came upon a Medicare office. This did not look anything like a government agency service center might in the U.S. Rather, it was akin to a retail bank branch, complete with color-coordinated signs and fixtures. It was bright and orderly. There were no lines (sorry, queues), but rather an electronic system to assign numbers to people (do bakeries still have those ‘take-a-number’ dispensers?) and thoughtfully arranged banks of comfortable seats. The seats were also color coordinated.
And once you get in there, here’s what you can do at a Medicare office:
And the signs...color coordinated
Health insurance in Australia isn’t just literally retail, but it’s also “retail” in the sense that it is overwhelmingly a direct-to-consumer business here. On my walk through The Rocks area of Sydney near my hotel that evening, I noticed all the major private insurers also had retail locations.
(And one was even selling products -- see yoga mats for sale below)
One of the large private health insurance funds told me that of the very small number of employers they serve, only 10% of those were subsidizing coverage. Most employers who subsidize health insurance for employees are those with U.S. origins or start-ups seeking to attract talent.
Retail operations are part of health insurers competitive differentiation. They provide service to help people navigate a complex product, and provide an opportunity to connect and build loyalty with consumers.
I think they're on to something. Complex product - check. Competitive market - check. Need to get closer to the consumer - check.