Take advantage of the abundant marketing opportunities
By James Jun
It’s no secret that the multicultural Medicare market is one of the fastest growing sectors of the Medicare market in Southern California. Demographics of Asians, Hispanics and other ethnic minority groups in Southern California will continue to grow faster than the overall general population. Many major carriers, including UnitedHealthcare, Humana, Anthem Blue Cross and Wellcare have put in much more resources behind their multicultural efforts in recent years, not to mention many smaller carriers that have traditionally have focused in the multicultural markets.
Perhaps the Ontario airport having direct flights to China (although temporarily halted due to the Coronavirus epidemic) and Democrats winning in key races in Orange County where Republicans have traditionally have dominated are evidence of demographic changes that could significantly impact Medicare marketing in Southern California in the coming years.
Also, it is important to note that the baby boomer generation has only started to retire in the Asian markets. This is due to the Korean War and Chinese Civil War ending many years after World War II, compared to American baby boomers being born starting right after World War II. For example, baby boomers in America were born from 1946 through 1964, whereas in Korea baby boomers were born from 1955 through 1963. This means the baby boomer generation born in Korea are just starting to turn 65 this year!
Characteristics of multicultural markets
In Southern California, there are many medical groups focusing on minority populations – Allied Pacific IPA in the Chinese market, Seoul Medical Group in the Korean market, Family Choice IPA in the Vietnamese market, to just name a few. These medical groups target language dependent senior populations. Some major medical groups have even formed affinity networks to address the multi-cultural population. Furthermore, many smaller carriers have traditionally targeted the minority population and have experienced some success, although many have weaker financials and lower overall star ratings.
Many smaller, ethnic agencies target these multi-cultural demographics, serving seniors in their native languages, bridging the gap of lack of information in the minority markets. To further complicate the issue, more Medi-Medi’s (dual eligibles) tend to be in the minority groups in Southern California, with generally less satisfaction with their healthcare outcome.
Due to language barriers, minority seniors will mostly enroll in ethnic medical groups, thus having access to in-language primary physicians and specialists. My agents and I have seen many seniors willing to travel 50 plus miles to see a doctor in their native tongue. Although these ethnic medical groups are much smaller than those in the mainstream, speaking in their own language becomes a key issue in selecting a doctor and/or medical group for seniors.
Marketing in multicultural markets
To serve the multi-cultural sector, in-language support of seniors by medical groups, carriers and agents is a must. Print materials, including benefit highlights, enrollment kits, information booklets and advertising flyers are some of the efforts already published by many of the carriers targeting the multicultural market.
Since many minority seniors tend to live in their ethnic groups, congregate near their community centers, churches and senior apartments, agents tend to conduct seminars in seniors’ native languages in these locations. I think we do more seminars per 1,000 seniors than mainstream. We once held a seminar at an Asian Resource Center and we had one lady show up from 50 miles out.
Like any other minority community, there are less number of experts and knowledge in the minority community. Pretty much most of the information is dispersed one step after the mainstream market. So, many seniors rely on their doctors, friends and church/religious center acquaintances for information. Getting the message through these seniors would require more “viral” marketing efforts to educate doctors, church leaders and community leaders. Educating agents is also critical as they are the sales force that directly face the seniors on a day to day basis. Due to the language barrier, minority agents require more training and direction.
Traditional marketing can be tweaked to target ethnic supermarkets and ethnic pharmacies, instead of targeting Ralph’s and Walgreens in the mainstream market.
Branding is as important as in any other markets because seniors all discuss plans with each other and name recognition becomes critical as one of the decision drivers. For example, one major carrier, Anthem Blue Cross, literally translates to “Blue Number 10” in Chinese with “10” written in the shape of a cross. The shape of a cross means 10 in Chinese characters. Anthem enjoys prominent brand recognition in the Chinese market because of this.
Throughout the year, cultural event participation is important. For the Vietnamese market, Vietnamese New Year celebration (Tet Festival), is a major holiday in Vietnam. Many Vietnamese Americans celebrate this as well in Little Saigon. In the Chinese market, Chinese lunar calendar New Year in February, and Full Moon Harvest Festival in the Fall are the two major days of celebration festivities by many of its seniors. In line with cultural sensitivity, red and gold colors should be used in print materials since they are known to bring good luck in the culture.
In the Korean market, Korean American Festival in Koreatown attracts a huge number of Korean seniors each year, in addition to two big Korean Health Fairs hosted by two major hospitals around Koreatown.
Also, in general, I found Asian seniors to be one step behind the mainstream Americans in terms of being technology savvy. These seniors still prefer paper applications over online enrollments although the coronavirus pandemic could change this. Remote enrollments will speed up after things normalize after the pandemic is over. Currently, it remains to be seen how the aftermath will play out and exactly what kind of changes we must deal with. Having said that, traditional paper applications are still more prevalent in the Asian senior community. Facebook and Internet ads are just starting in the Asian markets. We’ve been doing traditional newspaper and radio ads with decent results in the last seven years.
Embrace the Opportunity
Any carrier, medical group or agency that plans to grow in Southern California must pay attention to the multicultural market as it presents a great growth opportunity.
James Jun is the director of Reversus Insurance Solutions, one of the largest multicultural Medicare insurance agencies in Southern California, managing over 520 Medicare insurance agents. His work experience includes managing the multicultural sector for UnitedHealthcare and managing agents at Farmers Insurance. He holds an MBA degree from USC. He can be reached at (213) 718-5656 or firstname.lastname@example.org.