Deft Research’s 2021 Individual and Family Plan Member Experience and Engagement Study reveals the commercial health plan benefits that create and destroy member loyalty. Spoiler alert: It’s not cost.

Deft Research’s latest national market research report of 1,874 members in the Individual Under 65 market details the experiences consumers had during the 2021 plan year, including those associated with Special Election Period, which took place February 15-August 15.  

In an Executive Research Brief that offers a high-level view of the findings of the full study, George Dippel, executive vice president, notes that for the first time in the life of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) market, new members found coverage was surprisingly affordable. The stable, low-cost market was established by the COVID Relief Bill, which provided nearly $35 billion in new subsidies. The enhanced subsidies and the SEP led 2.8 million new members to seek ACA coverage.  

The study found that the largest factors that indicate whether consumers will stay with their current plan or look for new coverage are access-related, not cost-related, according to Dippel. Indeed, access to facilities and hospitals and access to doctors and specialists contributed nearly 20 percent to the overall reasons that can explain loyalty when faced with huge premium subsidies.  

“When premium (the historical anchor within an ACA consumer’s hierarchy of loyalty) is no longer a factor, the next step up in the pyramid is network,” Dippel wrote. “This bodes very well for providers’ negotiating strength in upcoming years.” 

Low contributors to plan loyalty include inpatient hospitalization cost satisfaction, specialist doctor visit cost satisfaction, and primary doctor visit cost satisfaction. 

The full report also offers information on brand equity and the experience of members with seeking care, cost-sharing, understanding and using their benefits, and contacting customer service.  For more information, email with the subject line IFP Member Experience Study.