An Interview with Jeff Smedsrud, co-founder of HealthCare.com

By: Taylor Leikness and Greta Weiler

Recently, boberdoo.com sat down for a phone interview with Jeff Smedsrud, co-founder of HealthCare.com, to talk about the current state of health insurance lead generation, and how he believes that the industry will continue to develop.

When asked about the current trends for Medicare Advantage plans, Jeff says,

“Medicare Advantage plans have grown, as 10,000 people a day are aging into medicare. Medicare Advantage is their first choice, because to consumers, it is often very affordable.”

“We’re seeing a lot more need for education to help those turning 65 to make wise decisions. We’re seeing, as an industry, more seniors going online and beginning to shop and using lead generation as the principal way to get their information, as opposed to direct mail, TV, or word of mouth. It’s more and more an online experience, for those over 65, as it has been, for many years, for those under age 65.” 

“And, we’re also seeing more people going to, what we call end-to-end online, to not only get a quote, but having someone come out and see them or talk to them. But they’re starting an application online, and finishing the application online. That’s a big change over the last couple of years.”

HealthCare.com

When asked what he sees as HealthCare.com’s role in the health insurance market in the United States,

“HealthCare.com helps consumers shop for plans, both for those under age 65 and over age 65. We serve about two million consumers a year and connect them with insurance agents or directly with carriers or directly online. We see that market, both over 65 and under 65, really accelerating. And I think some of the changes in the ACA (Affordable Care Act), the cost of those health insurance plans, has made more consumers shop for short term medical and things that are transferable and can go with people as they take on new or multiple jobs and move from one state to the next.”

 

As to what HealthCare.com can provide for its customers, Jeff states that,

“HealthCare.com not only helps them shop, but we have our own proprietary products and we help those customers enroll directly in health plans and try to give them good advice as to what is the best fit for them. And increasingly, consumers are saying that one size doesn’t fit all, and one size doesn’t fit me. I want to tailor something that meets my specific needs. What HealthCare.com does is give them the tools, resources and the products they need in order to do that.”

 

Regarding how HealthCare.com’s role will change in the coming years, Jeff believes that,

“there’s going to be growth in more online direct shopping for health insurance products, just like there has been in the past few years in online shopping and comparison in buying auto insurance. Health insurance is moving in that direction.” 

“As a country,” more and more consumers are not getting cradle-to-grave real coverage from large employers, nor are they staying with employers for as long as they used to. More Americans are starting to shop for types of insurance to supplement the coverage they had through their employer. So I think that all of those trends are going to continue, as insurance goes from being a paternalistic offering by large employers, to being something that each individual is responsible for and has to go out and buy for themselves.”

 

As to what Jeff thinks about trends regarding regulation, and how they might change in the coming years,

”Some of the regulations of the insurance industry need to change. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners model of regulations were last modified in 1999. A lot of things have happened in the way consumers buy products in the last 20 years.”

“And regulators need to do a better job understanding how people shop and what’s important to consumers. But they also need to make sure that they create some standards so consumers can be assured and confident that the companies they are buying from are real companies that have the finances and the backing to deliver what they’re promising.”

“There’s going to be a lot of change in regulations. Some of the change is overdue and some of the change is kind of silly. How do you put a big 200 word disclaimer on a mobile app?”  

“Regulations have simply not kept up with the way in which consumers shop and buy insurance. That doesn’t mean, that regulation should go away, they just need to be more aligned with the way people interact and conduct commerce today.”

 

When asked about the efforts that HealthCare.com is proactively making in anticipation of these regulatory changes, Jeff says,

“There’s a need to recognize how insurance products of the future are going to be offered and what really matters to people. And to allow regulations to adapt and change. It’s going to be an interesting debate, and we are trying to be proactive by helping regulators and consumers understand what some of the trends are. What other industry doesn’t reward people for being smart consumers, and savvy? Insurance should.”

 

And as for how he believes health insurance lead generation is going to change,

“I think health insurance lead generation will change and become more specific and tailored, and consumers are going to be less interested in and tolerant for just filling out a form that says ‘I’m interested just have somebody call me’.”

 

“Where the opportunity is going to be, is to have that consumer raise their hand and we engage them online as best as possible to say ‘what exactly are you looking for, what is your budget, how long might you need this coverage, what things are most important to you’ And then direct them or connect them to a plan that almost perfectly fits what their expectations are.”

 

Jeff also believes that there will be,

“more one-call transfers, where that individual is able to talk or chat with somebody, or a device, to further iterate what their expectations are, and transfer that again to exactly the right fit for their needs. The overall trend, the winners are going to be able to go fast and reduce friction. The faster you can go for the consumer, to help them with the least amount of friction and headaches, that’s where the home run is going to be.”

 

Regarding the topic of data security, big data, and what HealthCare.com has done to help manage client data,

“We’re very cautious and protective about what data we do gather. We try not to gather very much PHI (Protected Health Information). We try to get people to tell us in broad range what some of their needs are.”

“I think it’s going to be an extremely important issue over time, as more and more big data exists, and how that is used, and that there needs to be a clear connection between consumers consenting to use that data in ways that can be positive for consumers. We as an industry have a lot of information about consumers; we just need to use that information in the correct ways that consumers acknowledge and consent to.”

 

A big thank you to Jeff Smedsrud for taking the time to talk with us, and for being so willing to share his insights about healthcare insurance lead generation, and the current and upcoming trends in the industry.

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