Branding Health Care Exchanges To Make The Sale

Sep 25, 2012
Originally published on September 25, 2012 6:39 pm

As states work to comply with the federal health care law, many are designing their insurance exchanges, where people will be able to shop for coverage.

But just the word "exchange" sounds to many like off-putting government-speak, and some states are eager to come up with a more appealing name for these new marketplaces.

Peter Lee directs California's Health Benefit Exchange. It's up for a new name, and Lee says they want it to sound fresh, dynamic and innovative.

"What we're trying to figure out is what's a name that's going to stick, that's going to grab hold, that all Californians are going to say, 'Boy, that's where I go to find health care,' " Lee says.

The exchange will have a website where people can buy private health insurance, and many consumers will have government subsidies to help them purchase the insurance. Planners hope at least 3 million customers will enroll for benefits starting in 2014. But that 3 million is a diverse bunch — so organizers want a name that will grab all of them.

"Almost half of the people that are going to be eligible for subsidized coverage in the exchange are Spanish-speaking," Lee says. "But that's not the only market. We have about 600,000 people that speak Asian-Pacific Islander languages. Some of them speak Mandarin; some speak Hmong."

Lee and his team solicited names in California, and got hundreds of suggestions. Among them: Avocado, Ursa, Eureka — names or concepts uniquely Californian. They tested them with focus groups.

The name Avocado got laughs, but is now out of the running. Other names were borrowed from Spanish, like Calvida and Beneficia. They considered Healthifornia and Wellquest.

Claudia Caplan is a marketing expert with the RP3 Agency in Maryland. She's done everything from naming fast-food hamburgers to marketing for a freight rail carrier. She says a name for a new health marketplace should have humanity, but shouldn't be too cute.

"This is a whole new world for people in terms of how they're going to access insurance, and it might be wise to give them a name that makes them feel metaphorically wrapped in some nice, warm arms that are going to take care of them," Caplan says.

Still, a name isn't as important as what you build around it, she notes. "It's going to be such a turnoff if you give it this great, nurturing name and it just turns out to be the DMV all over again," Caplan says.

California's exchange staff is sharing notes with counterparts in other states. Maryland just came up with its name and logo. Dr. Joshua Sharfstein is Maryland's secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene, and chair of that state's exchange.

He says they tossed around action names. "We had some that had verbs in them like 'Cover Me Now Maryland,' 'Cover Insure Maryland,' 'Get Health Care Maryland,' those sorts of things," Sharfstein says.

He says one person even suggested "www.icantbelieveitsthiseasytobuyhealthinsurance.com." But the Maryland planners went with something safe and trustworthy: Maryland Health Connection.

"We thought it was simple," says Sharfstein. "It illustrated the importance of connecting — connecting with insurance brokers, producers, connecting people to insurance products, as well as connecting people to health care and health."

California is expected to release its new name and logo in November. The front-runners? Eureka, a reference to the gold rush; and Ursa, which is Latin for bear, and a symbol on California's state flag. Condor is off the table. While uniquely Californian, it is a vulture that almost went extinct.

Copyright 2013 Capital Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.capradio.org.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

State governments around the country are setting up new health insurance marketplaces to comply with the federal health law, and there are all sorts of details to work out, including a name. California is looking for a new name and logo for its health benefit exchange.

As Pauline Bartolone reports from Public Capital Radio, state officials are getting a lesson in marketing.

PAULINE BARTOLONE, BYLINE: The word exchange is government-speak. But the people building California's health insurance marketplace want a name that doesn't communicate bureaucracy. They want it to sound like a fresh approach to what many feel is a broken health system.

Peter Lee directs California's Health Benefit Exchange.

PETER LEE: What we're trying to figure out is when we launch and go public, what's a name that's going to stick, that's going to grab hold, that all Californians are going to say, boy, that's where I go to find health care?

BARTOLONE: The exchange will have a website where people can buy government subsidized private health insurance. Planners hope at least three million customers will enroll for benefits starting in 2014. That's why they need a name that will grab all Californians.

LEE: Almost half of the people that are going to be eligible for subsidized coverage in the exchange are Latino, many of whom are Spanish-speaking. But that's not the only market. We have about 600,000 people that speak Asian-Pacific Islander languages. Some of them speak Mandarin, some speak Hmong.

BARTOLONE: They got hundreds of suggestions and tested some with multi-lingual focus groups.

LEE: We're testing the idea of Avocado. The idea of Ursa; the idea of Eureka; these are names or concepts or words that have a thread which is unique to California.

BARTOLONE: The name Avocado got laughs, but is now out of the running. Other names borrowed from Spanish, like Calvida and Beneficia. They considered Healthifornia and Wellquest. Claudia Caplan is a marketing expert with the RP3 Agency in Maryland. She's done everything from naming fast-food hamburgers to marketing for a freight rail carrier. She says a name for a new health marketplace should have humanity, but shouldn't be too cute.

CLAUDIA CAPLAN: This is a whole new world for people in terms of how they're going to access insurance and it might be wise to give them a name that makes them feel good about doing that, as though they're being sort of metaphorically wrapped in some nice warm arms that are going to take care of them.

BARTOLONE: Caplan says a name isn't as important as what you build around it.

CAPLAN: It's going to be such a turnoff if you give it this great nurturing name and it just turns out to be the DMV all over again.

BARTOLONE: California's exchange staff is sharing notes with other exchanges. Maryland just came up with their name and logo. Dr. Joshua Sharfstein is Maryland's secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene and chair of that state's exchange.

DR. JOSHUA SHARFSTEIN: We had some that had like verbs in them like Cover Me Now Maryland, Cover Insure Maryland, Get Health Care Maryland, those sorts of things.

BARTOLONE: One person even suggested www.icantbelieveitsthiseasytobuyhealthinsurance.com. But the Maryland planners wanted something safe and trustworthy, catchy, a name that conveys that exchanges enabled people to chose between different private health plans.

SHARFSTEIN: In the end we went with Maryland Health Connection. We thought it was simple. It illustrated the importance of connecting with insurance brokers, producers - connecting people to insurance products, as well as connecting people to health care and health.

BARTOLONE: California is expected to release its new name and logo in November. The front-runners? Eureka and Ursa, that's Latin for bear and a symbol on California's state flag. Condor is off the table. For NPR News, I'm Pauline Bartolone.

BLOCK: That story comes from a partnership with NPR, Capitol Public Radio and Kaiser Health News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.