Saturday, May 1, 2010

Know your customer

The more I read about Healthy Howard, the more obvious it is that Ulman and Bielenson did not understand the market niche they were attempting to serve. They predicted 2,000 enrollees in the first year, and to their credit they did receive applications somewhere close to that magnitude. However, the vast majority of those applicants were eligible for actual health insurance through existing government programs. In fact, 3,000 people who have applied for HHAP over the last two years ended up qualifying for health insurance through existing programs (but I wonder if those applicants actually got this insurance? That would be an interesting analysis. Given all the innuendos coming out of the HHAP camp I would not just assume that the 3,000 applicants did get the insurance they qualified for.)

So the real lesson of Healthy Howard is that existing government programs do not do a good job of reaching the people who are eligible for them. If this is true in Howard County, it may be true across the entire country.

Now the problem, according to Beilenson, is that the people who are eligible for HHAP work two or three jobs and do not read the newspaper, so they don't know about the program:

Healthy Howard is not insurance, but offers comprehensive health care at low monthly rates, plus preventive care through the use of health coaches to county residents earning too much money for Medicaid but not enough to afford commercial insurance. Beilenson has said many people eligible for help work two or three jobs and don't read newspapers. They don't know about the program despite publicity, which is where PATH's volunteers come in.

It is interesting that Howard County was able to give away over 2,000 trees in a few days through a lightly advertised program, but they can't reach people who are supposedly eligible for HHAP despite advertising on TV, newspapers, internet, social media, and door to door campaigns. So again, I wonder: do the HHAP architects understand their target market?

I remember asking myself back when HHAP first started: "if this is such a good program, why has no one else done it?" The past two years of HHAP's operations has answered that question. The skeptic in me thinks that HHAP has become less about helping people and more about saving face.


Anonymous said...

From what I’ve read, Healthy Howard is not insurance. It’s goal is to provide access to affordable health insurance. If they helped 3,000 people get access to affordable health insurance, why don’t you think that’s success?

Freemarket said...

Anon, thanks for your comment. You are correct that HHAP is not insurance, but HHAP's goal is NOT to provide access to affordable health insurance. Its goal is to provide access to health care.

The software that enabled HHAP to find insurance for 3,000 people cost just under $70,000, and is already paid for so the county could use the software to place people with insurance even if HHAP goes out of business. In other words, the software is a sunk cost that we can still get benefit from.

Anonymous said...

The site says something a bit diff from Freemarket.

It says "Healthy Howard Health Plan is a new program designed to connect Howard County residents to affordable health care services and help our community overcome barriers to healthy living."

Maybe the software is 1 component of the program. Isn't Ulman saying that we could still get the benefit and not kick people off who are on now?

Freemarket said...

Ummm, yeah that's basically what I said HHAP's mission was. More specifically I was distinguishing between providing health insurance (as the first anon stated), and providing access to health care which is the actual mission of HHAP.

Whether or not people get kicked off of HHAP is up to HHAP. They could raise their fees, cut costs and/or solicit private donations if they don't get any tax dollars. HHAP is unique in that they have not made and budget cuts like most private businesses and even the county government have done in this recession. They have a little over 600 members, so giving them another $500,000 to operate for another year is far from an ideal solution.

Anonymous said...

HHAP is the Ulman/Bielenson taxpayer slush fund designed to make the poor more dependant on Government than they already are. That way when Ulman wants to be Gov He can win the primary and Bielenson can run for County Exec based on the new County dependency. Problem is not many poor people live in Howard County. Oh well I can't wait to see all of the campaign inspired HH with Ken's smiling face!

Anonymous said...

I heard the cost to the HoCo taxpayers is $1.88 per year for HHAP. That doesn't seem like a lot for 600 people to have health insurance.

Freemarket said...

There are not 265,000 taxpayers which is how many taxpayers there would have to be for your $1.88 figure to be correct (265,000 sounds more like the number of residents.)

And again, HHAP is not insurance.

THe biggest supporters of HHAP seem to be the ones who understand it the least.

Anonymous said...

Freemarket, you are always comparing apples to oranges. You want to say that marketing for a tree GIVEAWAY is similar marketing for comprehensive health services for a fee. FREE vs. FEE. Trees vs. Comprehensive Human Services. The more you write, the less creditable you become. Don't forget that $600 for someone making $12,500 per year is almost 5% of their yearly GROSS income. You try paying 5% of your gross income to something when you only make $12,500 per year.

Freemarket said...

Ken Ulman said in a video on his facebook page that all the trees were claimed within 34 hours. HHAP has been in business for 2 years. Call the analogy faulty if you wish, but I don't think it's unreasonable to expect that HHAP should have reached its target market by now.

Also, the supporters of HHAP are not jumping forward to contribute their own money to keep HHAP afloat. I guess the program is only good enough for tax dollars.