Next year, 12 million Americans are expected to begin purchasing health insurance through newly-created marketplaces known as exchanges (link to Congressional Budget Office). And by 2021, the total exchange membership is projected to reach 29 million—25 million in the individual exchange and 4 million in the small group exchange, known as SHOP (Small Business Health Options Program), marking the single largest expansion of health coverage in this country since the creation of Medicare in 1965.
No one knows what the actual number of newly insured people will be as a result of the Affordable Care Act aka “ObamaCare” as much must happen between now and then.
However, according to Forbes and others: “the pharmaceutical industry will reap between “$10 billion and $35 billion in additional profits over the next decade,” their new analysis shows.
The health law, which will bring millions of uninsured Americans health benefits beginning in January 2014, will be a critical boon to pharmaceutical industry balance sheets, increasing revenue by one-third by the end of the decade, according to a new report from research and consulting firm GlobalData of London.
The questions we would like to address in this blog post are the following:
- What generalizations can be made about these newly insured people and how might their needs differ from the currently insured population?
- How can pharma marketers best address and speak to the needs of this huge influx of newly covered patients and how can digital technologies and outreach programs help?
In a nutshell, the people who will enter the healthcare system as fully insured individuals as a result of ObamaCare will be less likely to speak English and less likely to have any formal education beyond High School. 30% will speak a language other than English. Today about 12% of the insured don’t speak English as their primary language. Roughly 86% won’t have a college degree compared to 63% of the currently insured population. And although the new group reports feeling healthy, physicians suspect there will be a range of undetected medical issues to address according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report.
From a communications perspective, and specifically a digital communications perspective, what are some of the things that pharma marketers need to start thinking about?
- Access: while PC penetration within this population might be low, with smartphones now essentially “free” with a 2-year contract, mobile penetration rates for this population will be very high. How do pharma marketers need to think about this access issue in terms of mobile sites, mobile advertising, Apps, and more?
- Language: as stated above, a much higher percentage of the patient base will not be native English speakers with Spanish being the largest non-English language represented. Are pharma marketers ready to approach this Spanish speaking patient population with sensitivity and an eye towards multi-cultural respect? This aspect goes beyond a mere translation of existing Web sites.
- Education: How do pharma marketers need to think about communicating disease education, product benefits and safety information to this new group of patients with limited educational backgrounds?
If one considers all of the established and emerging digital communication strategies and tactics available to pharma marketers today from branded and unbranded Web sites, banner and search ads, Social Media on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, online forms and blogs, mobile sites and mobile advertising and more, once can see that many aspects of basic pharma marketing “blocking and tackling” will need to be reviewed and updated.
“The (Affordable Care Act) represents a dramatic transformation in the fortunes of pharmaceutical companies in what is the world’s largest market for prescription drugs,” said Joshua Owide, head of GlobalData’s industry dynamics team in a statement to Forbes. “This reform was inevitable in the US, and while a number of the changes will negatively impact pharma’s fortunes, the overall balance could be positive, thanks to an additional 32 million formerly uninsured citizens becoming potential customers, resulting in up to $115 billion of new business over a period of 10 years.”
Which pharma brands and companies benefit the most from this sea-change in our healthcare system might be those that start anticipating the required changes and using digital communications technologies to reach and drive awareness. A lot of education needs to occur among this new group of insured individuals and digital will probably be the most cost-effective, broad reach method of doing so.
The Web site launched to help individuals select their coverage under this new law might be a good model in is simplicity and directness. One click and it’s available in Spanish although further Hispanic customization might be warranted.
These are all issues that pharma marketers need to consider. Like we say about most growth… it’s a good problem to have.