Ameritas Keeps Pace with Constantly Changing Marketplace

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Karen-Gustin-thumb2Hospitals and physicians aren’t the only ones that have spent the past few years adjusting to the Affordable Care Act. Payers have also had to change up their systems and business models to accommodate new rules and a new generation of consumers.

Ameritas, which is headquartered in Lincoln, Neb., has adjusted to the reform marketplace rather smoothly, Karen Gustin, LLIF, senior vice president of group distribution, said.

Maintaining flexible internal systems

Ameritas offers standalone vision plans and has been offering standalone dental plans since the late 1950s. Its plans are marketed directly to individuals or to companies as part of their employee benefits packages.

“Our systems are specific to dental, which has allowed us to be flexible and accommodate the needs of the market,” Gustin said. “We have high accuracy for our customers based on our experience and understanding of risk.”

The company also has a strong grasp of exchanges.

“You have to be great at file-eligibility transfers and risk management with exchanges,” she said. “It’s not enough to sell something on a platform. You have to shift the risk profile of the typical dental case to one with a large number of people across a wide geographical area.”

Ameritas has transitioned well throughout any changes that have come up in the past 30 years and has been able to save other insurance companies that didn’t fare as well.

“Most carriers have to worry about system, plan design, customers, and the market when changes come about,” Gustin said. “We just have to worry about market.”

Since the 2008 recession, Ameritas has seen a change in how people use their plans. With a decline in employment, people have been visiting the dentist less often for major services. They also receive fewer major procedures and opt for more basics that usually pay at 80 percent.

In fact, consumers have just recently begun to come back to dental plans in order to use more of their benefits for major procedures, Gustin said.

Focusing on customer satisfaction

Gustin credits much of the company’s success in the market to its customer service. She said in the dental market, many people only stay with a company for about two to three years.

“Ameritas has 92 percent or more persistency,” she said. “We get our customers in a state of wellness, and they stay with us.”

Customer service remains key to Ameritas’ strategy, and recruiting people with the right dedication and focus is a challenge. Gustin said the company holds high standards for each employee, and employees are measured based on consistent metrics every year.

“We have built our culture over time,” she said. “We need to find people who want to be a part of that culture.”

Culture quickly translates to customers, Gustin added.

The company also makes strong efforts at employee engagement. Pay scales and incentive programs are based on metrics that support the customer-oriented culture.

Its selectiveness and high standards have served Ameritas well. The company has won the Purdue Award of Excellence for Service, a worldwide recognition program for contact centers, for eight years in a row.

Dealing with technological and generational challenges

Keeping up with the latest technology and the latest threats to that technology and doing it in a cost-effective manner is, of course, a challenge for any business. Gustin said Ameritas is staying on top of these changes through constant attention to the latest in software tools.

Adapting to multiple generations of customers is another challenge Gustin said the company is facing, especially since Baby Boomers and Millennials view their insurance needs and the value of insurance differently.

Gustin said Millennials may be more likely to avoid purchasing dental insurance until they plan on receiving services. They also seem more likely to look at the price tag above other considerations.

In this new marketplace, Ameritas is figuring out how to reach the new generation of consumers and the best avenues for marketing. Gustin’s team is asking such questions as, Who should Ameritas’ plans be marketed to? Should it be the broker, a human-resources representative, or the consumer directly?

Gustin said marketing needs to be much more multifaceted. With younger generations, they are more likely to respond to text messages over emails. Brokers and employers need printed materials or other avenues of marketing.

With Baby Boomers, the challenge is to keep them with their dental plans after they retire.

Ameritas is examining multipronged approaches for marketing across generations and across decision-makers, from individuals to employers. In addition, it has to keep the contracts and plans appealing to these different generations.

“If you’re not growing, you won’t be around long,” Gustin said. “Ameritas will keep growing. We always have.”

-by Patricia Chaney

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