Medicare Marketing: 3 Strategies to Address Acquisition Declines

If you’re responsible for Medicare marketing, you are most likely already prepping for the eight weeks in the Fall that have become pivotal to your business strategy. It’s the only time of year that most seniors can make a change to their Medicare Advantage coverage so the noise during this timeframe has built to a crescendo. But beyond market competition, you face another challenge. In recent years the rate of seniors who switched plans has plateaued or outright declined. You need to rethink your approach.

If you’re responsible for Medicare marketing, you are most likely already prepping for the eight weeks in the Fall that have become pivotal to your business strategy. It’s the only time of year that most seniors can make a change to their Medicare Advantage coverage so the noise during this timeframe has built to a crescendo.

For acquisition marketers, the stakes are high and your goals are clear. Entice eligible seniors to switch to your plan during the Annual Enrollment Period (AEP).

But beyond market competition, you face another challenge. In recent years the rate of seniors who switched plans has plateaued or outright declined.

As recently as 2015, 23% of seniors switched plans. Today, it’s a mere 9%. What does a decline like this mean? If you apply the 9% to your marketable universe before calculating your expected return, the math itself will demonstrate the problem.

You need to rethink your approach to Medicare marketing.

But before you move to a new strategy, let’s dig a little deeper into the data. Turns out, the Medicare switchers are largely, if not exclusively confined to those who had an event or interaction that would predispose them to switching during the year.

It could be a customer service issue, a price complaint — or something else entirely — either way, it points to the conclusion of Deft Research that “switchers are not created during the AEP. A combination of consumer experiences and insurer outreach throughout the year creates them.”

How best to react? Embrace the challenge with a proactive approach to change.

3 Strategies to Address Medicare Marketing Declines

1. Rethink seasonality — Only 88% of seniors who had decided to switch plans by the start of AEP, actually switched. Similarly, 90% of those who decided to stay with their same 2017 coverage ultimately did. What does this data imply about seasonality? Although transactions occur during the AEP, the real work –relationships with members are year-round endeavors.

2. Engage with your audience — Embark on a strategy to build or establish a relationship ahead of the transactional AEP. Since today’s 65-year-old was in their mid-40s when the Google search engine launched, they are internet savvy, social and will engage. There are lots of ways to keep them warm, informed and connected.

3. Get to know the “new” senior — Could it be that the new senior audience is misunderstood? Let’s think about that… while “misunderstood” is a term usually reserved for teenagers, today’s Boomers see themselves, and aging very differently. They are dealing with their own version of being underestimated by today’s businesses. The boomer generation is dedicated to changing the way society thinks about retirement and aging. Loyalty is a two-way street with this audience. While the “old” senior citizen may have been known for their loyalty, the new senior is discriminating and looking for value to support their lifestyle — their needs come first!

While switching has been down — shopping behavior has not.  This dynamic leaves the window open for more change to occur, especially if you take their lead and engage the new seniors outside of a transactional and limited approach.

Healthcare Marketing: Where Is the Puck Headed?

While there may be more professional ways of saying it, 2017 was a crazy year in healthcare marketing. Will they repeal and replace? What will happen with CHIPS funding? Will Medicaid be turned into a block grant program? Will CMS continue to move toward bundled payments?

Four signs point to where healthcare marketing is headed.
Four signs point to where healthcare marketing is headed.

While there may be more professional ways of saying it, 2017 was a crazy year in healthcare marketing. Will they repeal and replace? What will happen with CHIPS funding? Will Medicaid be turned into a block grant program? Will CMS continue to move toward bundled payments?

If the uncertainty at the federal level didn’t make your head spin, the pace of health system mergers might have — reaching an all-time high of 115 announcements. Now that we are three months in 2018, what can we expect for the rest of the year?

To be an effective marketer, you need to be aware of the macro forces shaping the industry and try to gauge what they could mean for the health of your region and your hospital or health system. It’s about considering where the hockey puck will be in two to three years, not just where it is right now. That type of thinking is great when the trends are fairly clear but harder to do when the environment is uncertain. There’s some bad news and some good news.

First, the bad news. The federal government will continue to roil healthcare in 2018, even though the likelihood of substantial legislative change diminishes as mid-term elections get closer. Merger activity will continue as providers try to develop sufficient scale so that future financial uncertainties can be managed. The number of consumers who have health insurance through the Exchanges will gradually decline because of the elimination of the penalty for tax filings in 2019.

The good news is that some tasks and trends will continue onward, and March is an ideal time to solidify your plans. Here are four things that haven’t changed:

The Move Toward Mobile

Hopefully your site already is mobile-friendly, but what does it let you do? Is your provider directory mobile friendly? Do the search results display in a click-to-call format? Can new or established patients request or schedule an appointment right from their phone? Does it render a map with location-aware driving instructions?

Time invested in improving the functionality of your mobile-friendly site is time well-spent.

Increasing Growth of Voice-Based Search

The popularity of voice assistants for the home is accelerating the use of voice-based searching. Voice-based searches often involve phrases such as ‘near me’ or ‘open now’ (or are implied) and are constructed differently than a keyboard-based search.

Find a search engine optimization firm with specific experience in voice-based search to ensure your visibility remains high as this type of usage increases.

Increasing Medicare and Medicare Advantage Coverage

Demographics are driving up enrollment in these programs, which has an impact on who you target, messaging, fulfillment, and use of communication techniques that increase Annual Wellness Visits or that decrease costly inpatient readmissions.

Dig into your local demographics and seek out multi-year sponsorships or tie-ins that elevate your brand among aging-in beneficiaries. Develop an outreach program that encourages seniors to use their Annual Wellness Visit benefit.

Research Is Worth It

When the environment is uncertain, you may notice an increase in suggestions about what you should be doing. Marketing is really about understanding the needs of your prospects and meeting those needs through services, communications, intake, and retention elements that make the journey a breeze.

If you have an objective, third-party research study about what your audiences want, you have a better chance of reframing conversations to how to address the needs of end-users.

Need help organizing your thoughts? This template can help.

My Time With ‘The Greatest’ – A Lesson in Authenticity

In 1986, I was doing TV lead generation for a Medicare Supplement brand when a gift fell into my lap. Muhammad Ali had purchased our Med Supp product for his parents, and was open to our overtures to endorse the brand.

Target Marketing Blogger Chuck McLeester with Muhammad Ali in 1986.
Target Marketing Blogger Chuck McLeester with Muhammad Ali in 1986.

In 1986, I was doing TV lead generation for a Medicare Supplement brand when a gift fell into my lap. Muhammad Ali had purchased our Med Supp product for his parents, and was open to our overtures to endorse the brand.

WOW! We were going to make a TV commercial with “The Greatest” and I would be spending two days on the set with him and his parents, Cassius and Odessa Clay.

It was a beautiful day on location at a classic Southern-style home in Maryland with a wrap-around porch. At that time, the Champ could barely speak, and he didn’t really try to. Nor did he have to. His presence was overwhelming, his demeanor calm and confident, and the look in his eyes communicated nothing but warmth and kindness. He managed to muster enough control to say his one line at the end of the spot, but his mother, Mrs. Clay, did all the heavy lifting with the script.

Mr. and Mrs. Clay sat together on the porch while Mrs. Clay recited a classic DRTV script: Call out to the audience, present the problem/solution, and deliver a call to action. Cassius Clay Sr., who was not as smooth-spoken as his wife Odessa Clay, nodded in agreement.

All the while, Mr. Ali entertained the crew with his magic tricks and other antics, and he delighted some local children who had stopped by to view the spectacle, giving them his undivided attention until he retreated for his prayer time.

His demeanor bore little resemblance to the brash young fighter taunting his opponents with poetic bluster. Or to the man who was one of the most polarizing figures in America during a politically tumultuous era, denouncing the war in Vietnam, embracing the Muslim religion and changing his name to the one that we associate with the man who was the most recognizable person on the planet.

During that time, I was learning a lot about direct response marketing – grinding through the nitty gritty of maximizing lead volume within an allowable acquisition cost and testing ways to improve lead conversion. I don’t think I was conscious of the fact that I was a witness to one of the most amazing evolutions of a personal brand — ever.

After he lost his boxing license for three years over his refusal to be inducted into the army, he reclaimed the heavyweight championship, was exonerated as a conscientious objector, fought in the ring until 1981, and then became an ambassador for peace and tolerance. In 2005, Ali received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush. It’s the highest civilian award in the United States.

Throughout his evolution, Ali never strayed from his core principles: fairness, self-confidence, hard work, determination, persistence and most importantly, authenticity.

These core principles were the essence of his brand and he embraced them throughout every stage of his life. That’s how it’s done.

Rest in Peace, Champ!