In just a few short days — six, to be precise — the Affordable Care Act’s Individual Mandate will kick in to high gear as the doors swing wide into the public exchanges for open enrollment. And if Americans were only dimly aware that healthcare reform was indeed happening, a lot more are paying attention now, thanks to splashy efforts to hold the stop-gap spending bill hostage to language de-funding the ACA. Further fueling awareness is all the ongoing news about employers that will now no longer cover spouses eligible for insurance through their own employers, and large group employers like Walgreens that will push employees to a private exchange, essentially getting out of the business of health insurance.  

So, if there’s one word that describes the emotion among health plans and group and voluntary benefits insurers, it’s “uncertainty.” That uncertainly extends to what the customer experience will be like on the public and private exchanges. And as I called out in a recent blog, if the website experience we recently scored is any indication, there will be some pretty unhappy shoppers, because the exchanges and health plan websites haven’t made the shopping and buying journey easy.

 But while a consumer in 2013 might suck it up because they just gotta have health insurance this year, they won’t put up with it at renewal time. We expect a  lot of churn, especially among the customers the plans most want to retain. Of course, we’re talking about the:

  • Good — healthy and wellness-minded, and very likely younger.
  • Fortunate — especially the ones who are informed and wealthy enough to pay for private insurance.
  • Strong — in that they have the intestinal fortitude to suffer through some horrible online experiences shopping for health plans.

But just I was becoming resigned to the fact that many health plan shoppers will just have to “settle” as opposed to being wowed by the shopping experience, out comes a new health plan that’s aiming to make a real digital difference: Oscar (You can get the details here, and let me conserve my keystroking strength for other stuff).

I tried out the shopping experience a few days ago, and unlike the recent health plan experiences I reported back in August, Oscar was  friendly and welcoming (for instance, instead of just an “Espanol” link, its link translated was “Speak Spanish? So Do We”); highly usable (like typing a ZIP code and clicking two radio buttons was all the data entry needed); and it rendered my quote smoking fast. It also produced three different options that were easy to compare, unlike the three-screen-long plan comparison tools I had to scroll through to view how plans differed when I shopped seven plans for our rankings report.

And with Oscar, the idea of digital isn’t just limited to online and mobile for buying and servicing — users also get access to a doctor care line with a committed call back in an hour, meaning members don’t having to sit in a waiting room (even if it is on Park Avenue) for 45 minutes just for some basic reassurance. Generic prescriptions also don’t require any co-pay (yes, no additional out-of-pocket cost to plan members), and Oscar covers birth control and, yes, acne treatments.

Alright, so Oscar is clearly aiming at the good, fortunate, and strong market, since it’s aimed at a digitally savvy, young, New York City plan buyer who’s been trained by her most recent digital experience, not by a health insurance experience. Mainstream health plans, group insurers, and even auto insurers would do well to pay attention to how Oscar’s digital business team and agency turned shopping and buying health insurance into an awesome experience — and more importantly, if the company will able to carry over the great digital buying experience into member servicing in the coming months.

I'll be speaking more on Oscar and all things digitally innovative in the insurance industry at Forrester's eBusiness Forum in Chicago, November 5-6. Hope to see you there.