Health insurers should stop wasting money on advertising

stethoscope and banknotesHealth insurance companies should not waste money competing against themselves with glossy advertising campaigns and pointless PR ‘dialogues’, writes editor Robin Pascoe.

It is almost that time of year again – the time when health insurance companies bombard us with television adverts full of shiny happy people and try to persuade us that they have the best policies.

So not great timing for CZ then, with the news that two hospitals in Noord-Holland have stopped carrying out cataract operations on people with a CZ policy because there is no more money to pay for them.

It is not the first time healthcare providers have said no because the budget has run out. And it is likely to happen more and more, as health insurance companies try to find ways to highlight their differences by offering ‘budget policy this’ and ‘value for money’ that.


There are all sorts of insurances out there. There are discounted policies for people who are members of this or that charity – such as the Wadden Sea Association. You can get a special tailor-made policy if you are a graduate or planning a family or on a budget.

In fact, there are some 40 different brands competing for your attention. They are, however, all owned by the same 10 companies, four of which control 90% of the market. In other words, a lot of the end-of-the-year frenzy is company X competing with itself.

The Consumentenbond last year said the total marketing bill for health insurance companies – including the cost of temporary staff and administration – is around €400m. Advertising research group Nielsen put their actual spend on adverts at around €59m, of which 85% was spent in the last two months of the year.


It’s an awful lot of money to persuade us to switch companies, and even more absurd when you consider all the basic health insurance policies offer exactly the same thing – because the government decides the bottom line coverage.

This autumn, however, health insurance companies have been running a different campaign – based on the slogan ‘Healthcare (unfortunately) is about money as well’.

The campaign has taken the form of full page adverts in daily newspapers and news magazines and aims to stimulate online debate about how the health insurance system works – in particular when it comes to cash.


The response to this little public relations exercise, judging by a quick look at the special website, has not been exactly overwhelming. The three different full page ads, which will have cost tens of thousands of euros, have generated a grand total of 608 comments at the time of writing. The Facebook page has just 79 likes.

In other words, more money that could have been spent on carrying out cataract operations has gone down the drain.

Healthcare is, unfortunately, about money and ensuring value for money in particular. But end-of-year advertising blitzes and PR initiated dialogues are, financially, a very bad deal for patients.

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