A “Face Behind the Card”: Special Treatment is the Norm for BCBSM Health Plan Advisor

Julie Bitely

| 7 min read

Ryan Owens loves helping people. It’s a good thing that’s his job. As a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Health Plan Advisor (HPA), Owens can talk to 50 people a day or more, helping them to determine which BCBSM health plan is the best fit for their family healthcare needs and budget during open enrollment and helping others sign up during qualifying life events such as a birth, job change, or retirement. We asked Owens to describe a typical day in the life of an HPA. Here are excerpts from our Q&A with him.

What is a typical day like for you during open enrollment? Is there such a thing?

“I help current members and prospective members determine which health plan offered by BCBSM is the best fit. The steps that I go through to provide that service, like the explanation of plans, networks, subsidies, health care reform, et cetera, can give a day a typical feel, but the interactions with different people with different situations and needs, from all walks of live gives every day something different. People are unique, their needs are unique, (and that) makes each day unique. That’s one of the things I like the most about providing customer service.”

How do you help people who missed the open enrollment deadline?

“After open enrollment ends, there is still more work to do. The first week after open enrollment is filled with calls from individuals who missed the deadline. Most of my calls involve setting up a conference call to the Marketplace with the perspective member and speaking on their behalf. The process can be overwhelming as the Marketplace asks a lot of questions regarding household members, income, and relationships. Once you mix that in with the terminology associated with health insurance, I can understand why a lot of prospective members feel more comfortable having an HPA like me on the line with them. I often step in and simplify questions by rewording them in a manner in which the member can understand. I provide examples of scenarios so that they understand deductibles, coinsurance, and out-of-pocket maximums. We discuss these things prior to even calling, but I use the call as another opportunity to make sure everything is clear and concise for the caller. My goal with every prospect is for them to understand what it is they are purchasing, how the coverage will work for them and not just be enamored with the price.”

What do you do the rest of the year?

“I help a lot of people going through qualifying life events, which bring special enrollment periods for the person or family in those positions. Most of these are people who are considering or will be retiring soon. We have conversations about what our individual coverage has to offer versus the Cobra coverage they may have available post-retirement from their employer. I ask probing questions to find out what they need out of an insurance policy and then try to match their needs with a plan. I also help people moving to the state or who have a new child on the way, which are also considered qualifying life events.”

What is a typical call like?

“My day consists of educating customers about the plans available. In most cases the caller isn’t aware of what product they want when the call begins. I spend the majority of the call listening to their needs. (I try) to get an understanding of their health care needs in order to find policies that I believe will provide them with benefits that will assist with their needs.”

What should people have prepared before they call an HPA?

“It’s actually a very simple process and not much is needed. If you are just having a conversation, then you need the birthdates of everyone looking to be insured, the genders of all applicants, their smoking status, and their zip code. If the prospect is interested in determining subsidy eligibility, then the gross household income is necessary as well. If the person is calling to apply right away then they would need social security numbers of all applicants and basic information about their sources of income.”

How do you help people find a plan that works with their budget?

“One of the most important parts of the conversations I have with callers is about the budget they can afford for their health insurance. I take pride in getting a caller to look beyond price as their only deciding factor when selecting a plan and to look at the value they receive from a policy. Money can easily be a driving force in a decision so I think it is important to make sure callers understand what their dollar will bring them. Sometimes fifty dollars a month can be the difference between a high deductible and a much more manageable deductible. Getting someone to understand what that extra fifty dollars will do for them is what my job entails. It is more than just selling them the plan. As an HPA, it is important to me to educate. I have had many callers tell me that they understand health insurance as a whole more than they did before making the call. That’s satisfying.”

What do you like best about being a Health Plan Advisor?

“The satisfaction of knowing I have really educated someone about something that was intimidating and confusing before their interaction with me is definitely at the top of the list of things I like best about being an HPA. The elation you hear in the voice of people who may have been struggling to pay for their health care when they learn they are eligible for a subsidy – now they can afford health care that is actually better coverage than what they were struggling to pay for before. I have started calls where the caller is crying in frustration and the call ends with tears of joy. Nothing beats that.”

How do you provide superior customer service?

“BCBSM has a reputation and a standing in the industry and I find it important to represent that and present an experience to my callers that matches just that. I want the story they tell to be ‘I spoke with Ryan and now I understand much more than I did before. I am happy with my policy. He was courteous, clear and concise, truthful, made sure I understood and took pride in his work. My experience with BCBSM was what I would expect from an industry leader and the service I received mirrored just that.’ That’s what I want my story to be. I provide that service by ensuring that my callers understand what it is they are actually deciding on. Patience is a key trait needed to provide good service. I am kind, courteous, and respectful of all callers. I take pride in representing the company well, as just trying to live life the right way.”

How does your BCBSM leadership support you?

“We are in a department where the end result is how many members we can get enrolled, but it never feels that way. Taking care of the customer is the theme of our department. One thing leadership has said that always sticks with me when dealing with customers is that for a lot of callers, we are Blue Cross. We are the face behind the card in a lot of situations when someone is looking into health insurance. I know the reputation that (Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan) has and I think it is important to give a customer experience that matches our standing in the industry.” Think you’d benefit from talking to an HPA like Ryan? If you missed the open enrollment deadline, you might still be able to sign up for coverage. A special enrollment period from March 15 to April 30 allows taxpayers who discovered they owe a fee for not signing up for coverage last year to get covered. Get connected with a BCBSM Health Plan Advisor by calling 1-855-237-3501. You can also visit one of our statewide walk-in center offices for face-to-face answers to your questions. Like this post? Check these out:
Photo credit: Ryan Owens
MI Blues Perspectives is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association