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COVID-19 Impact on the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period

Seniors, as we know, are our most vulnerable population and even more so today in light of the COVID-19 pandemic that is sweeping the world. In the US alone, there are more than 3.9 million confirmed cases to date. At the time of this writing, 143 thousand people have lost their lives from COVID-19, and two-thirds of them are seniors, ages 65+.

What does this mean for Medicare payers who are responsible for bottom lines, marketing campaigns, and reaching sales goals that are largely focused on the fast-approaching nine-week Annual Enrollment Period (AEP)?

Many seniors’ behavior has changed as a result of the pandemic, and it will continue to change into October. So, let’s break down the steps you can take to mitigate these behaviors:

Think about your direct mail strategy and how you can optimize the expense and the experience. Something as simple as direct mail is now seen as a threat. According to Deft Research’s COVID-19 study that surveyed Medicare consumers between April 24 – May 4 of this year:

  • 17% of respondents reported setting aside direct mail for a day or more before opening
  • 21% said they have been throwing away junk mail they would otherwise read
  • 15% are disinfecting their mail with a household cleaner

Plan to take your in-person AEP seminar meetings virtual this year, as social distancing could still be in effect in October.

  • 61% of Deft’s respondents said that if they were to use an agent, they would prefer to speak with them over the phone
  • 15% of seniors said they would rather exchange emails
  • Only 12% said they would prefer to meet in-person

If you have a telehealth benefit, promote it front and center this AEP. We know that telehealth benefits are top of mind for seniors, so ease their minds by reassuring them that they will have coverage for a virtual visit, if offered by their physician. Think about your Medicare prospects as patients, who still need to see their doctor for routine care.

  •  Since the start of the pandemic, telehealth usage has increased greatly with 18% of respondents having a telehealth visit compared with just 4% prior to COVID-19
  • Also, seniors are reporting an increased adoption to video calling with 33% reporting they are video chatting with friends and family

You may have been thinking about pulling back on TV due to election noise. Instead, try to maintain a consistent TV buy schedule, starting in October, and certainly in November, through December 7th. And definitely purchase local and national news channels since TV consumption has increased as a result of stay-at-home orders.

  • 43% of Deft respondents report they are watching more TV
  • 48% are following the news more often

If switching intentions remain low this year, Original Medicare Only (OMO) might be the opportunity to gain new enrollment.  Early indications are that COVID-19 may be increasing loyalty among Medicare members with their current plans.

  • 48% of Medicare members were “very”, “quite”, or “extremely” satisfied with their insurers’ responses to COVID-19
  • Of those satisfied members, 34% said they were more likely to stay with their current carrier
  • Net Promoter Scores (NPS) have been 9 points higher year-over-year
  • Original Medicare Only (OMO) members are feeling most vulnerable about not having adequate coverage

As Medicare marketers, we know your audience. It is important that we use this time to become sensitive to the growing needs of seniors and their need to shop for insurance. Now, more than ever, it is important to have the right Medicare coverage.

Helpful tips for AEP:

  • Be ready to connect by video
  • Move to virtual seminar meetings  
  • Place that TV/DRTV media buy – especially post-election when inventory will reappear
  • Consider postcard formats for direct mail, limiting engagement with your piece, but ensuring you message is delivered
  • Investigate USPS informed delivery in your market area to increase visibility of your direct mail messages
  • Promote telehealth benefits
  • Be sensitive to the needs of shopping seniors; meet them where they are at in the process in a way that makes it most comfortable for them
  • Prepare your call center for higher volumes than prior AEPs as in-person meetings and broker interaction may be less frequented
  • Don’t forget about existing members. Be sure you promote to your member base how your organization is responding to the pandemic and the additional support you can provide to members during this time

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