Annual Enrollment Period 2021 and COVID-19 Restrictions



In what is a familiar situation, Medicare agents currently working the once busy Annual Election Period (AEP), are encountering many closed doors. Los Angeles County, which currently enforces some of the toughest guidelines for businesses, has posed a challenge for agents trying to reach the Medicare population. Agents that once relied on conducting marketing events at clinic or provider offices during AEP are finding most clinics are not allowing this activity again this year. Some are requiring agents to be fully vaccinated and provide proof of vaccination in order to participate at their locations. The challenge many agents are facing this year is really a matter of survival. Last year, field activity was almost non-existent for the LA market. Most agents had to rely on telephone or virtual appointments. Many agents wrote off AEP 2020 and vowed to come back strong in 2021. Then, Delta happened and we are seeing many agents having to make a tough decision: ride out another AEP, or meet vaccine requirements to conduct business in the field. For many, this has really tested their personal beliefs as there is still a big opposition to vaccine mandates.

John Gomez, an experienced agent with 12 AEP’s under his belt, shared his thoughts. “I can’t afford to sit out again this year,” he said. “Last year, I found many seniors just wanted to stay with their current plan and not make any moves until things reopened. The carriers have come out with some really competitive benefits this year, many with Part B rebates, but I just don’t know if it’s enough to get seniors to shop again this year.

I tried conducting virtual seminars, but people weren’t showing up. I decided to get vaccinated, despite my initial hesitation. Now, I’m conducting seminars outdoors, I’m working with businesses who will let me set up my table, and with clinics who will allow me in with my vaccine record. At this point, I have to do what it takes to get some business in this year.”

Health insurance carriers acknowledge the barriers being faced, particularly in Los Angeles County where mask mandates are in full effect regardless of vaccination status. Many carriers are improving their online enrollment platforms to assist agents in being more efficient with their enrollments.

John continued, “Telephone enrollment is something new to me. I’m a paper app guy and consider myself old school in that sense. I realize that many seniors are old school in the sense that they prefer to meet with people face-to-face. They just don’t trust people over the phone. I also work at a lot of food pantries, but most of those are drive-thru only at this point so yeah, it’s definitely been hard. I’m calling all my clients and asking for referrals. I’m doing whatever I can think of.”

It’s really a matter of how creative agents can get this year. Many agents relied on their “pie events” in the past (conducting their formal sales events at local restaurants such as Coco’s), so coming up with fresh ideas is challenging when meeting in person is not possible.
As an agency owner, I’m helping my team strategize how we can build business this year. If they need to mail out flyers to Medicare recipients in the whole city and invite them to an outdoor event where light snacks and refreshments will be served, that’s what they are going to do. Cross-training is also something we are investing a lot of time in. We have our field agents, and we have our phone agents, but because of the nature of the business right now, we are making sure that our field agents are properly trained in compliance to be able to conduct business over the phone.”

We have our field agents, and we have our phone agents, but because of the nature of the business right now, we are making sure that our field agents are properly trained in compliance to be able to conduct business over the phone.” 

The County of Los Angeles issued an order requiring vaccines for many business employees beginning October 7. While the future of COVID-19 restrictions is uncertain, Open Enrollment for both Medicare and Covered California is still very much moving forward.

Many carriers have doubled down on their media advertisement in an effort to get people to call in for information or enrollment. In the Covered California Marketplace alone, Californians will have 12 carriers to choose from, many boasting competitive benefits and formularies at a lower price due to the American Rescue Plan and the increase in subsidy assistance. In the past, a lot of agents typically turned their focus to Medicare because of the higher commission and renewals, now many are finding a new interest in selling Individual and Family Plans due to less compliance restrictions on finding new business.



JEZABEL URBINA, DRPH, MPH, is CEO and co-founder of Los Angeles-based Hart Sales Training Systems Inc.