Get ready to rock and enroll this AEP

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Annual Enrollment Period, or AEP, is the time of year when seniors enroll in their annual Medicare plans. It’s often the biggest and busiest time of the year for those marketing to seniors. 

To help us get the most out of this crucial period, we’ve tuned in to Integrity Marketing Group’s Medicare Live event the last two years. The day-long conference features sessions led by various experts in the Medicare field, from executives at health care giants like Aetna and Humana to market researchers. 

Here are some things we’ve learned that will help us (and you!) get ready to rock and roll for AEP this year.

Medicare customers prefer a high-touch experience.

Surprisingly, that means talking with an agent over a digital experience.

Like in the last two years, AEP 2021 will see a lot of Medicare customers diving into the nitty-gritty details of their Medicare options before deciding to keep or switch plans. But despite being increasingly tech-savvy, Medicare customers are still most comfortable having this conversation with an agent. According to 2021 data by DEFT Research, 41% of members switched plans via an agent and only 21% did so online. When corresponding with agents, Medicare customers preferred phone conversations to emails, and emails to virtual meetings. 

This surprised TA’s Group Strategy Director, Riley Yates. “I thought that the adoption of virtual communications would be much higher because the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of virtual meeting tools for everyone, including Medicare customers,” said Yates. “Medicare marketers will need to display their TFNs (telephone numbers) prominently and staff their call centers adequately to quickly answer questions and direct callers to their local agents and brokers.”

Medicare Advantage just keeps growing.

Carriers continue to update their Medicare Advantage (MA) plans to be more competitive, and AEP 2021 is no different. For instance, several major carriers announced at this year’s Medicare Live event that they had updated their plans to include better telehealth services — in light of the pandemic. Other aggressive offerings include increased network flexibility, improved dental coverage and more supplemental benefits.

According to DEFT, customers are paying attention. First, Medigap to MA switching remained sky-high at 9% in 2021 — the same as it was the previous year. For comparison, it was at 3% in 2015. Age-ins were also more enticed by MA plans than ever before. 47% reported to be likely to choose Medicare Advantage upon enrollment in 2021. This was an increase of 3% from the year before and 6% from 2019.

What’s the reason for the continued rise of Medicare Advantage? DEFT hypothesizes two key factors: better offerings from carriers — customers particularly valued dental and financial incentives — and economic uncertainty. 

TA consultant Annette Herman sees this as an opportunity for Medicare marketers to “focus ads and communications on what’s new this AEP and how it compares to what they already know or have. Insurance agents and brokers can then provide the guidance their customers rely on them for to get the best plan that will work for them.”

Marketing basics have never been more important.

For Yates, there is still a need for carriers to instill customer confidence in their ability to take on the challenge of COVID-19 safely. Data points, like the preference for phone calls when communicating with agents and increased appetite for financial incentives in MA plans, show the lingering effects of the pandemic.

“Carriers that address their customer’s F.U.D. (fear, uncertainty, doubt) will be more successful this AEP than those who don’t,” says Yates. “To do this, Medicare marketers really have to know their customers so they can answer their questions and address their concerns before they are brought up. It seems basic, but it’s never been more important to know your customer.” 

Herman agrees that getting back to basics is crucial for a successful AEP. “The best thing carriers can do is implement solid branding,” says Herman. “Not only will this help to differentiate products, but it will also help customers connect emotionally with the carrier.” 

This emphasis on brand during COVID is something we’ve seen at TA since the pandemic started last year, and Herman takes this idea further. “Carriers also need to promote their strong brand with their sales teams,” says Herman.” This includes empowering their agents and brokers with tools and information that will enable their sales professionals to build on those strong carrier brands and help them guide their Medicare customers to the right plan.”

If you’re like us and you’re doing your last set of stretches before the AEP 2021 mad dash begins, this Medicare treasure trove of information and trends will put you several steps ahead. Contact TA today to learn more about how we can help you with your Medicare campaigns during AEP and beyond. 

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September 29, 2021by annette herman & riley yates

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