With an eye on both improving the customer experience and differentiating itself from competitors, Celtic Insurance has implemented eApproval technology from Mountain View, Calif.-based eHealth, a company best known for its individual health insurance Web portal, eHealthInsurance.com.
A nationwide individual health insurance provider, Celtic, a subsidiary of St. Louis-based Centene Corp. ($1.6 billion in total assets), will leverage the eHealth eApproval technology to automate scoring decisions and online approvals for applications submitted to the Chicago-based carrier via the eHealthInsurance.com Web site. The technology integrates with Celtic's own decision-making technology to allow eHealthInsurance.com shoppers to submit an application with an e-signature, receive approval and purchase individual insurance within a single visit to the Web site, according to Colleen Fournier, Celtic's VP of sales and e-business, who notes that the same automated capabilities will be available to customers shopping on Celtic's own Web site as well.
Previously, prospective customers who filled out applications for Celtic coverage on the eHealth site would have to wait for the carrier to complete the approval process offline. "It was after the customer had disconnected [from the Web site]," Fournier concedes. "It would be 24 hours later, 48 hours later and anywhere up to 60 days after the customer had completed the application."
In many ways, Fournier says, the eApproval implementation was an in-house IT project for Celtic. The company already possessed e-signature capabilities, she adds, but the eApproval solution gave Celtic the ability to immediately deliver certification information to new customers. "We were basically given a schema that told us how eHealth wanted the status to come back [to the site]," Fournier explains. "It was up to us to decide how to get that status back to them within the 90 seconds that eHealth requires" as a standard for customer experience.
According to Fournier, the project started in late 2008 and the eApproval capability went live in June 2009. The implementation did require Celtic to reengineer parts of its application submission and approval processes, she comments. "We had to move the decision-making process forward a little and have it done within those 90 seconds," Fournier says.
In addition the carrier sought to enhance its rating capabilities on the site by integrating its underwriting rates into the eHealth rate engine. "We have much more detailed rating now so that when the customer goes through the application process, at the end it displays a final rate online [for a majority of customers]," Fournier explains. "Before, we would -- as every carrier does -- quote just preferred rates. Then the application would come in-house and it would be rated up for height, weight, occupation and various medical conditions. Then the customer would find out later what their final rate was."
Fournier describes eHealthInsurance.com as a very important part of the carrier's business, calling it a top distribution channel, but she declines to discuss any specific numbers. The site essentially allows consumers to comparison shop for coverage across several health insurance carriers. "It's really a big clearinghouse for many, many carriers," Fournier says. "So many companies are on the Web site right now that it's often the first place customers go to look."
Celtic is betting that the new eApproval capabilities will help it stand out from its competitors on the site, most of which cannot approve and bind new applicants in a single visit to the site, according to Fournier. Speed and the peace of mind that comes with immediately receiving coverage are keys for prospective customers on eHealthInsurance.com, she suggests.
"We were finding that a lot of customers would apply to multiple carriers. A lot of times the first one that came back with a response was the one they would choose to keep," Fournier reports. "The speed was a big marketing enhancement for our products."
While Fournier says it is too early to discuss results of the eApproval implementation, she indicates that the carrier has received positive feedback from its agents, who appreciate the similar capability on Celtic's own Web site. She also says that partnering with eHealth has helped the carrier keep its customer-facing technology up-to-date with online customers' evolving expectations, which is particularly important now that Celtic's business is 80 to 85 percent electronic.
"A lot of insurance carriers can be slow to introduce new technology," Fournier observes. "We get the benefit of working with an Internet technology company."