For Your Benefit

Insurer Gets Vocal Over Health FAQs

By Rita Pyrillis


ech tools designed to turn employees into savvy health care shoppers are everywhere and can be accessed 24/7 from most devices, yet many consumers still struggle to understand basic health insurance terms.

In fact, 96 percent of consumers can’t explain what these terms mean, according to a 2016 survey by Policygenius, an online insurance broker. While most people know what a premium is, most could not define copays, deductibles, coinsurance or out-of-pocket maximum, the survey of 2,000 consumers found.

“Employers are recognizing that technology hasn’t met their needs,” said Julie Stone, a benefits consultant at Willis Towers Watson. “They are looking for something different that will allow people to quickly interact with a digital hub. Meeting people where they are is critical.”

Health insurance giant Cigna is convinced their new tech tool Ask Cigna will do just that. It is an Amazon Alexa skill-designed to educate users by providing answers to more than 150 commonly asked health care questions, according to Rowena Track, vice president of digital marketing at Cigna. Alexa is Amazon’s voice-activated service, which allows third parties to tap into Alexa’s voice controls to accomplish tasks or ask questions.

Ask Cigna users can query, “What is long term care?” “What is a deductible?” or “What is an ACO?”

“But it’s important to note that the skill is much more than a glossary of terms,” Track said in a written statement. “We’ve built in user-tested intelligence into the skill, which helps us understand what other questions people will ask and be proactive in providing answers and recommendations. For example, if someone asks, ‘What’s an HSA?’ we know they’ll likely also be curious as to what an FSA is. So, the skill will ask them if they want to know what an FSA is. We also have connectivity, so we can send information back to the Alexa app.”

Consumers with a high level of health plan literacy make choices that can lead to better health outcomes and to greater satisfaction with their health plans compared to those with only a moderate level of literacy, according to a 2016 report by Willis Towers Watson.