Michigan Blues on board with mobile

New initiative gives members quick access to health plan discounts
By Eric Wicklund
07:40 AM

A recent survey by the health rewards marketing company EveryMove indicates health insurers aren't fully embracing mobile technology – a critical strategy as the nation moves toward mandatory health information exchanges. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is making a move to stay ahead of the curve.

The insurer has announced a partnership with Larky, whereby the Ann Arbor-based company will present BCBSM's Healthy Blue Xtras savings program on a web site and corresponding mobile app. The idea is to give BCBSM members quick and easy access to all of their health plan discounts – whether they know about them or not.

“Seventy-two percent of consumers we surveyed said that they ‘knew they deserved some member discounts but didn’t know what they were or how to get them,’” said Andrew Bank, Larky's co-founder, in a September 4 press release announcing the partnership. “Our passion is to ensure that consumers aren’t leaving money on the table, and we’re thrilled to work with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan to ensure their members get all the discounts they deserve.”

[See also: Mobile health app market in growth mode.]

According to Larky co-founder Gregg Hammerman, the company, which launched this past April, is taking BCBSM's successful discount program and creating a dashboard on which members can see all of the discounts that are available to them – including those from other memberships, such as AAA, AARP and Costco. In addition, using GPS technology and customizable alerts, the Larky mobile app enables members to learn about discounts on their smartphone when they're capable of using them – as they're passing the health club, dining out or shopping.

“When the Blues launched the Healthy Blue Xtras program, we set out to provide added value to our members by offering discounts on everything from groceries to fitness gear to yoga and gym packages to help them embrace and maintain a healthy lifestyle,” said Kathryn Levine, BCBSM's vice president of corporate marketing and customer experience, in the press release. “There are over 90 partners in the program to date, and our partnership with Larky now gives members easier access to those opportunities to make healthy lifestyle choices that are healthy for the pocketbook, too.”

"We're providing meaningful value to the consumer, which is going to drive up adoption," said Hammerman. He said BCBSM "created a great program and they were getting people to join in, but not enough people" were taking advantage of the program as it was intended.

"An organization's member discounts are only as good as its' members awareness and usage of those discounts," he said.

[See also: House explores FDA's mobile health role.]

That disconnect between a health plan's mobile strategy and a health consumer's mobile knowledge might be the thorn in the side of the EveryMove survey, which ranked the nation's top 100 health insurance companies on how they engage with their customers to manage their health. In a recent story in eWeek, EveryMove CEO Russell Benaroya pointed out that only 22 percent of health plans allow consumers to access their data on mobile devices through an app.

Benaroya said the survey was conducted to highlight some of the more innovative uses of social media and mobile tools – including the top-ranked Capital District Physicians' Health Plan in New York, which is using a photo sweepstakes to reward healthy activity, and third-ranked Independence Blue Cross in Philadelphia, which is working with Penn Medicine and mHealth company Vitality to boost medication adherence through interactive pill bottles. And while the top-ranked health plans are making inroads, he told eWeek, they have a "long way to go around using these technologies to actively engage that population."

That's what Hammerman is hoping to achieve with BCBSM – and with other health plans, hospitals and healthcare providers who are just now beginning to look at the Larky platform. He said consumers are deluged with coupons, discounts and savings programs, but have to do a lot of searching and researching to find out where, when and whether they qualify.

"The biggest barrier to (adoption) is fragmentation," he said.