Public contests: Boost perception, payer innovation

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Neither one person nor one company can do it all. That's a major life lesson we adults benefit from once truly learned. And health insurers are embracing the philosophy as they attempt to lower costs while increasing quality care.

The most recent example of insurers admitting they can't solve the quality-cost problem alone is UnitedHealth's contest awarding $60,000 to the winning idea that uses common consumer technologies, including smartphones and video games, to help improve treatment of chronic conditions.

I commend insurance companies for reaching out to the public and seeking assistance to help improve the healthcare system with new innovations and ideas. Although insurers employ thousands of workers, many of whom have years of healthcare experience and are highly valuable, it's never a bad idea to welcome fresh ideas from new sources.

Like UnitedHealth, Independence Blue Cross launched a contest last summer asking the public to submit ideas for health IT programs that encourage healthy behavior. The Philadelphia-based insurer offered $150,000 for the winning idea that uses software applications, devices, products, education programs or public awareness campaigns to promote fitness, preventive medicine, healthy eating and medication adherence.

And Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina incentivized state residents to generate ideas to help reduce obesity by offering a $20,000 reward to up to three of the best proposals for obesity-reducing plans.

The old adage "it takes a village" really does apply here. By asking for help, these health insurers are not only on the precipice of new and innovative ideas, but they also stand to reap some very rewarding fringe benefits, namely improving their public image and customer relations. Most everyone appreciates being asked for help and even if they don't have ideas to offer to the insurers, I would bet the public's perception of the companies is improving.

Essentially, the insurers are appealing to the public's hearts and opinions while tapping the people's minds for ideas. It's a brilliant move, really. And despite offering rewards, I suspect that $60,000 or even $150,000 contest winnings is one of the wisest public investments insurers can make.

Maybe we'll see more insurers implement similar contests to win the hearts and minds of the public, particularly with the influx of millions of new members to contend with in the next few years.

In fact, public opinion and company reputation may be the single best differentiator when consumers choose their new policies through health insurance exchanges. I wonder if UnitedHealth, Independence Blue Cross, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina and other insurers with similar promotional campaigns reap the rewards come exchange time.  - Dina (@HealthPayer)