CHICAGO — Insurance companies face their own set of challenges in trying to stay relevant in a health care system on the verge of a consumer-focused transformation, according to panelists at the opening session of the AHIP Consumer Experience & Digital Health Forum.

Four technology and investment expert panelists at the forum, sponsored by America's Health Insurance Plans, described the types of companies that currently pose a small but real threat to the established insurance companies, and offered some ideas on how they can respond.

Bryan Sivak, former chief technology officer at Health & Human Services, pointed to two startup insurers and one established insurer as examples of how the future might look for that segment of the health care system.

Sivak says Oscar Health Insurance Corp., which recently garnered a $32.5 million investment from a Google subsidiary, places the consumer at the center of its approach, and has grown to 40,000 individually acquired members in two years. The insurer is doing things like offering free telehealth visits, and “patients love it,” he says.

Clover Health, an even smaller insurer startup at 7,500 members is relying on a data-driven approach to try to get a competitive advantage. Sivak says that Clover’s techniques sound like more advanced versions of things bigger insurers already are doing. For example, while Clover uses data to evaluate asymptomatic members’ health, bigger insurers likely would struggle to easily identify members who are due for a colonoscopy. Meanwhile, Clover's customer satisfaction scores are “off the charts,” Spivak says. The company recently announced that it had gotten $100 million in equity funding.

He also identified CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield based in Maryland as an organization “that understands this universe is changing.”

Organizations that offer the right service at the right time have the potential to be game-changing like ride-sharing companies and other industries because “the consumer in the health care space is angry,” says the conference’s facilitator, Alexandra Drane, co-founder and chair of the board at Eliza Corp.

Drane queried Rock Health co-founder and managing director Halle Tecco as to what people are angriest about. Her answer was terse: It's cost.

Tecco says one of the ways insurers could improve their prospects for becoming more attractive to consumers would be to diversify their management ranks regarding such things as ethnic and gender lines. "Diversity at the leadership level and across the product spectrum would make a huge difference in being able to move forward as a loved brand," she says.