United Healthcare

For several years prior to 2002, PacifiCare, a California-based insurance plan provider, had implemented isolated efforts to reach Hispanics. The company, which serves nearly 3.2 million members, had focused on the senior market and set up a Spanish-language customer service line, but this was a very small effort in California. Simultaneously, in the San Antonio and Phoenix regional customer service centers, bilingual customer service agents were in place.

Request for change came from within

PacifiCare’s sales teams repeatedly asked the company to improve its effort in reaching out to the Hispanic market. They found that many Hispanic members in small and large employer groups preferred receiving health care information in Spanish, and that employer groups wanted that support from its insurance carrier.

Hiring an executive dedicated to Hispanic members

However, the idea of seriously assessing and targeting the Hispanic market did not gain traction until early 2002 when PacifiCare’s new CEO was appointed and charged with turning the company around. He quickly evaluated the markets where PacifiCare operated and, in late 2002, hired Russell A. Bennettas as vice president of Latino Health Solutions to develop the Hispanic market opportunity.

Numbers reveal an untapped opportunity

First, Pacificare wanted to know how many Hispanic members were enrolled in its plans, but found that no one was tracking ethnicity, race, or language preferences. PacifiCare worked with a variety of external organizations to develop a fairly sophisticated Hispanic surname algorithm to filter its database and identify its Hispanic members.  This process determined that 19 percent, or one in five, of PacifiCare’s members was Hispanic, and there were 20 million Hispanics in the states where the company offered its core commercial HMO plans.

There was clearly big opportunity. Moreover, this significant finding validated the CEO’s belief that targeting Hispanics was a critical success factor in achieving the company’s growth goals

Improving enrollment through culturally-relevant access

PacifiCare’s Bennett realized that the new generation of Hispanic labor would be increasingly better educated, would have better jobs and would enroll in group insurance in bigger numbers. He believed that lower signup rates among Spanish-dependent Hispanics had been a symptom of an industry environment that historically failed to create access to insurance products in culturally relevant ways, including, but not limited to, Spanish-language sales, customer service, and claims processes. PacifiCare set out to change this.

New products or better access?

The company first looked at whether success in this market would mean developing new products or making existing plans more accessible and relevant to Hispanics. Given than most of their Hispanic members were in some kind of group insurance, not individual, PacifiCare decided that its growth platform would consist of retention and membership growths by ensuring that its existing products could add value to its existing Hispanic members.