What's in a name? A more diversified membership, America's Health Insurance Plans hopes.
After nearly two decades, the Washington D.C.-based powerhouse has rebranded and will simply be known as AHIP, with the revamp coming at a time when the traditional health insurance business has transformed from simply taking on individuals' health risk to directly providing care, social services, technology products and much more.
"We are champions of care, guiding greater health. That's our mission and it is central to the work that health insurance providers do every day. After a year filled with unprecedented challenges and loss, and at a time when reliable health coverage has never been more important, AHIP is aligning our brand with our mission, our work and the communities we serve," CEO Matt Eyles said in a statement. "Today we're not just changing how we describe our work, but how people think about the role of health insurance providers in their lives, from making coverage and care more affordable to breaking down barriers to good health. This will help us create more impact with the work we do."
The name change also reflects the attitudes of many of its member businesses—that just so happen to provide insurance coverage—asking to please be called something else. And it could allow the industry organization to represent a broader audience, said Ari Gottlieb, a Chicago-based healthcare analyst.
"I think it reflects a broader view that with the shift in risk to providers and other risk-bearing entities, health insurance is significantly broader than what people traditionally think of as health insurance," Gottlieb wrote in an email. "Changing the branding to reflect that opens up greater participation by other healthcare players, such as providers taking risk under Direct Contracting."
During its investor day in February, for example, Anthem CEO Gail Boudreaux kicked off the event by saying "the traditional insurance company that we were has given way to the digitally enabled platform for health we are becoming," meaning one of the largest health insurers in the country views itself as a digital health company. Alignment Healthcare, an Orange, Calif.-based Medicare Advantage startup, prefers the term "payvider" over insurtech, since it employs its own clinicians. And, CareSource has run ads boasting that the Dayton, Ohio-based managed care company's investment in the social determinants of health makes it "so much more than a health insurer."
A string of consolidation and mergers over the past decade have blurred the lines between payer, provider and technology service, said Adam Block, a New York-based economist and assistant professor of public health at New York Medical College, adding that most businesses that would traditionally be thought of as health insurers are really third-party administrators or group health plans—just 30% of the health insurance market is through fully-insured, commercial insurance.
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this shift into new business lines, with more insurers investing in benefits around the social determinants of health, like providing members access to nutritious food or transportation, as a way to avoid running into too-high medical loss ratios. MLRs essentially measure the amount of each dollar an insurer spends on member care. AHIP's updated mission reflects this trend, with its new charge emphasizing its members' focus on health equity, innovations in health technology and addressing the social determinants of health. The updated mission could be a move to increase public perception of health insurers, Block said, noting that newer companies could be attempting to eschew the insurance label altogether, and avoid the negative connotation. An AHIP spokesperson said the change was in no way intended to distract from the fact that the organization serves health insurance providers.
"We are and will always be proud to represent the people working in health insurance," AHIP spokesperson David Allen said.
Insurers' investment in social determinants of health has not yet paid off in the court of public opinion.
The 2021 Edelman Global Trust Index noted that the pandemic caused perception of insurers to nosedize even further, with U.S. respondents' trust in health insurers declining four percentage points in 2020, with most saying they "distrust" their benefits provider. As consumers deferred care, health insurers' gained the reputation that they profited from the pandemic, even though costs at the end of the year generally evened out for payers. The investment in new types of benefits could represent a turning point for some insurers, Block said, although ultimately payers will have to continue the practice of approving—and denying—claims.
"That is not going to fundamentally change," Block said. "The rebranding, to me, is only a temporary fix. But somebody has to say no to a claim. It's just how the system works."