By Holly Ackman
Ripple effects from the coronavirus pandemic have created unique challenges for insurers and brokers alike. Possibly the biggest challenge is for those who serve Medicare beneficiaries. Why? Medicare is complex to begin with. Add in the strict “safer at home” orders that were implemented in March, the backlog and wait times trying to sign up for Medicare, and fears for their own health and safety—and that of their loved ones—and you get the picture.
Where some professionals have predicted increased disenrollment (due to joining “the wrong” plan in haste) and others swear this will lead to change paralysis, my outlook is more optimistic. I believe the insurance industry has been provided with the opportunity to go beyond client expectations, deliver extraordinary customer service, and take the cards dealt to us as a rallying cry for innovation and progress.
Today, the right combination of adaptability, person-to-person communication and understanding of client needs are essential for brokers to grow and maintain their books. Life and health agents have always played an important role by leveraging their subject-matter expertise to guide seniors through tough decisions. Now, going beyond expectations means finding creative, out-of-the-box ways to continue to deliver the same support and expertise to clients, even if from a distance. Brokers who adopt this mindset and partner with the right health plans will be the ones who thrive.
Going digital: the new skills we all need
Most brokers and agents have made themselves available to conduct meetings anywhere, be it their own office, a local coffee shop or the client’s own kitchen table. While these in-person meetings with clients have always been a staple of our industry, the reality of physical distancing regulations and risk to our older clients’ lives has changed this. Successful agents will add new arrows to their metaphorical sales quiver by developing creative alternatives for meeting with prospective clients and accomplishing all required steps. If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to embrace technology.
As I was writing this, counties across California had just begun to open up more retail stores and services. Should all go well and we continue to “open up” for business, precautions will still need to be taken. Seniors will remain at higher risk from COVID-19. So let’s just plan that many, if not most, sales interactions will need to be conducted virtually in the near future. Luckily, the baby boomers are more digitally familiar than their older counterparts who are aging into Medicare at the rate of 10,000 people per day. This is priming the industry for increased adoption and use of technology. That’s important, because digital communications have become one of many “new normals” that have occurred in response to physical distancing.
As our industry quickly transforms, agents and brokers must also be sure their partner health plans are being equally as creative. In the Medicare marketplace in particular, health plans should work with agents to establish alternative enrollment options and identify emerging issues. As just one example, our team at SCAN is working diligently on a new fully digital enrollment system. We know that new alternatives that help you educate your clients, conduct needs assessments, select the right plan option, and enroll prospects into plans as simply and efficiently as possible are more vital than ever.
Prioritizing personal communication in a virtual world
Medicare can be confusing for those aging-in even in the best of times. Today’s seniors face even more distractions. Between the physical threat of the coronavirus, financial stress of economic instability (and for some, job loss) and mental health effects of social isolation, the pandemic’s unique impact on older clients may lead to anxiety about all things related to medical care and health insurance. That’s why developing a routine approach to connect regularly and develop a relationship with your clients is not only good for business, it’s the right thing to do as fellow citizens. So pick up the phone. Call. Check in. Listen. It’s what SCAN’s been doing a lot of the past few months and let me tell you: these “just because” calls are so appreciated!
I’ve always found that the best brokers and agents check in with their clients for the sake of checking in, not just because they’re looking to sell. Communicating effectively and frequently with clients also ensures you are aware of any changes that may impact their healthcare needs—and potentially their coverage needs as well.
When it comes to conducting business, face-to-face is still best. Luckily, our digital world makes virtual face-to-face both doable and effective. But I caution that merely sending a senior client the link to the video conference call doesn’t cut it. While many of us have seamlessly transitioned to working digitally, we must remember that some seniors are not as quick to adopt new technology. And before you accuse me of ageism, you should know that I’m of Medicare age myself. Technology is not second nature to me, but I’m competent. While I have peers who are better with tech than I am, I know many who struggle. Patience, compassion and planning make all the difference. Call before you schedule a virtual meeting to walk your client through the process. Helping them understand these technologies—from virtual calls to online document signing and submission—can help ensure a seamless sales process while building trust with your clients.
Selling Medicare Advantage in tough times
No matter how current events have changed the way brokers sell health plans, what matters most is that the client is connected to a health plan that offers them real value and benefit. At SCAN, our directive to brokers is to never put a client in a plan that isn’t right for them, even if it’s one of our own. And nothing’s changed there. It’s essential that you conduct a thorough needs assessment to determine each client’s medical needs, socioeconomic situation and lifestyle circumstances, as well as what they did and didn’t like about their current/previous healthcare coverage.
Medicare Advantage remains a competitive offering for seniors in California, providing a much-needed and affordable option. At a time when other insurance organizations are touting cost waivers for COVID-19 testing and treatment, it’s good to note that these are standard benefits for many MA plans. Many SCAN plans, for example, already include $0 copays for lab tests, office visits, urgent care and even hospitalizations. And we think the managed care principles of preventive care and primary care oversight are even more important now. Coordinated care, focused on early detection and disease management, helps ensure patients have access to the care and medications they need to stay healthy and independent—even during a pandemic.
There have been crises before COVID-19 and there will be crises again, but it’s important for brokers and agents to remember there is an advantage to selling MA in tough times. Our industry has been forced to find new, creative ways to apply classic customer service strategies. The life and health professionals who embrace technology, build relationships with clients and continue to partner with trusted health plans will rise above the rest. Ultimately, clients will never forget the support and guidance offered by agents and brokers in 2020. Going beyond expectations will pay dividends.
Holly Ackman has almost 30 years of experience in the Medicare Advantage industry. She is currently the vice president of sales operations for SCAN Health Plan, one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit Medicare Advantage plans with more than 215,000 members in California. In addition to Medicare Advantage, SCAN Health Plan also offers special needs plans for those with chronic conditions or who are dually eligible for Medicare and Medi-Cal. For more information visit scanhealthplan.com, visit us on facebook.com/scanhealthplan or follow us on twitter @scanhealthplan.