Service analysts: For small insurers, life is hard

"All other health insurers" fell even further behind "all other life insurers."

Typical health insurers may be having a harder time pleasing customers than other financial services companies are.

ACSI Services has reported that finding in the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index survey report.

ACSI bases the satisfaction reports on surveys that reach about 70,000 consumers per year. The research center measures the participants' satisfaction with 230 companies in 47 industries and 10 economic sectors.

ACSI puts health insurers in the Finance & Insurance category, along with banks, credit unions, life insurers and property-casualty insurers.

Health insurers as a group earned a satisfaction score of 72 this year. That's the same score they earned in 2011.

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans made big gains. They increased their combined score to 73, from 68.

Aetna Inc. (NYSE:AET) held its score steady at 67.

The average satisfaction score of all other health insurers fell. The score of "all other health insurers" -- health insurers with individual brands recgonized by only a small percentage of the survey participants -- sank to 71, from 75.

In the life insurance category, the overall score increased to 81, from 80, and the score of "all other life insurers" fell just slightly, to 81, from 82.

Despite waves of stories about consumer anger about new bank fees and tight bank rules, the overall bank customer satisfaction score increased to 77, from 75, and the satisfaction score for "all other banks" held steady at 79.

"All other property-casualty insurers" performed about as poorly as "all other health insurers."

The scores for the five p-c insurers with the largest survey participant mind share were about the same as in 2011, but the overall p-c insurer score fell to 78, from 83, and the score for "all other" p-c insurers fell to 77, from 83.

In the health insurance category, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans seem to be doing better than other health insurers because consumers see them as providing better value for the money, ACSI analysts said in a commentary on the latest survey results.

"The customer satisfaction outlook could change quickly, however, as premium hikes are proposed for next year," the analysts said.

For small health insurers, "this is the third straight year of waning customer satisfaction," the analysts said.

Small health insurers may be suffering because consumers tend to be more satisfied with more affordable coverage, and smaller health insurers may have a harder time offering low prices, the analysts said.

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