Monday, October 19, 2020

How to Succeed at OEP: A 5-Step Plan for Medicare Advantage Plans

Congrats, you had a successful AEP. Now the real work begins.

By Bill Phillips, Chief Content Officer

Let’s start with a cautionary tale—and, yes, it has everything to do with OEP.

You’ve just purchased the Bentley of home security systems: streaming video, motion-activated lights, a web of lasers that an intruder would have to shimmy under like you see in those heist movies, the works.

The monthly fee is hefty—and switching from your old provider was annoying—but as the sales guy said: Bentleys don’t come at Honda prices.

Month one: The thing never goes off. But why would it? You live in a safe neighborhood.

Month two: You test it. The alarm rouses the cat but doesn’t trigger a call from the central desk making sure you’re okay.

Month three: You call the sales guy and get his voice mail. He never calls back. You start Googling Hondas.

So it goes, all too often, with the Medicare Advantage open enrollment period, better known as OEP. The program, which returned in 2019 after a nine-year hiatus, allows any Advantage member to switch plans without penalty between January 1 to March 31.

That means anyone who signed up for a Medicare Advantage plan during the annual enrollment period (AEP) from October 15 to December 7 can change their minds until April Fool’s Day. When it happens, the joke’s on you.

And it does happen. Historically, roughly 5 percent of members switch, according to Deft Research. What’s more, all bets are off in 2021. Because this year’s AEP is unlike any previous—no in-person education, for example—experts warn the switch rate could be much higher.

So, how can you retain or even grow your membership during the critical OEP period? It comes down to cultivating relationships with new and returning members—ensuring, unlike Mr. Bentley, they understand the value of your brand and their plan long before they try to use it. Here are five ways to do just that.

Step #1: Prioritize Experience Over Education

If you’re thinking the historical 5 percent rate doesn’t sound so bad, consider this: As many as 25 percent of new members—those that switched to your plan during AEP—change plans during OEP.

Imagine you run a big box retailer and a quarter of everything you sell is returned over the following few months. That’s no way to run a business; the only good news is that you won’t be running it for long.

When it comes to Medicare Advantage plans, what drives such high buyer’s remorse? According to the researchers at Deft, AEP comes and goes so quickly that seniors often don’t always take the time to comparison shop.

Then OEP rolls around and they have time to learn about the supplemental benefits other plans offer—telehealth, fitness and over-the-counter pharmacy benefits, eyewear and hearing aid allowances. Suddenly, a competitor’s grass looks a little greener.

Is your organization poised to succeed during OEP? Download our free 2021 OEP Checklist, which will help you identify communication gaps and establish a content strategy to support your retention goals during OEP and beyond.

The lesson here is that how you onboard new (and returning) members matters. Yes, educating them about their plan and benefits is important. But don’t stop there—your goal is to create memorable experiences.

A great example of this comes from Independence Blue Cross. Kortney Cruz, the director of Medicare sales and marketing, explained during a Rise webinar last year that the plan creates experiences for its members with tactics like thank-you cards, phone calls (referred to as “hug” calls), puzzles, rewards, and health and wellness blog posts.

Step #2: Reach for the Star Ratings

There’s more at stake during OEP than retention. Member experience has never mattered more: By 2023, it’ll account for 32 percent of a Medicare Advantage plan’s overall Star Ratings, roughly a 3x increase over today.

Building relationships with your members during OEP serves two purposes: 1) It cements their commitment to your plan and 2) facilitates favorable feelings, which may appear in member surveys and ultimately improve your Star measures.

Remember also that Star Ratings can lag by a year or more. The 2023 metrics will reflect member experience in the second half of 2021, for example. Sure, you can try to schedule your outreach so you’re top of mind during the survey period, but that’s like trying to time the stock market. Far safer to play the long game, prioritizing member experience every hour of every day.

Think about it as buy and hold—once members buy, your job is to hold onto them. But how? Start by asking yourself these three questions:

  1. Are you communicating with your members today in a way that will make them love your plan?
  2. Do you have authentic two-way conversations with your members that are built on a foundation of trust?
  3. If your plan was drowning, would your members throw out a life preserver?

If you answered no, or even hesitated, there’s a chance you’re not communicating with your members enough or in the right way.

Step #3: Serve, Don’t Sell

Linkwell Health’s approach to content marketing and campaign management is rooted in a concept called service journalism. True to its name, service journalism is about serving—putting the needs of your members over those of your health plan.

Sound familiar? It should. It’s about prioritizing each member’s experience.

This is an essential pivot that every health plan needs to make, and not just because of the retention and Stars benefits I touched on above. Members are consumers too, and they are judging you against the level of customer service and personalization they’ve come to expect from their favorite brands.

How big an impact can this have on member experience? The J.D. Power 2020 U.S. Medicare Advantage Study, released in June, found that overall member satisfaction increases 209 points (on a 1,000-point scale) when plans deliver content and messaging that 1) ensures members fully understand their out-of-pocket costs, 2) provides health education, and 3) delivers useful reminders for preventive services.

And yet, according to J.D. Power, only 15 percent of Medicare Advantage plans deliver all three.

It’s time to stop thinking of members as a captive audience and instead see them as consumers who you must educate, inspire, surprise, and delight. When they purchase one of your plans, your work doesn’t end. It begins.

Think: How can you serve your members during the OEP period to ensure they’re satisfied with their plan and their overall experience? What conversations can you have with them each day? How can you keep them engaged?

Linkwell Health has created content campaigns to keep health plan members engaged during the OEP and AEP periods and every day in between—from month-long fitness, nutrition, and health challenges to daily SMS messaging to ensure members understand their benefits and are taking actions to seize control of their health.

Step #4: Embrace the Pillars of Service Journalism

You don’t have to be a seasoned journalist to incorporate service into every message you send. You simply need to speak to members in a way that’s practical, empowering, and authentic—and helps them solve problems or otherwise improve their lives. Here are a few key tenets you can adopt today:

The word you. Your content is for and about your members, so speak to them directly, as if you’re talking to a friend on the phone or at a restaurant or bar (socially distanced, of course). Use the words “you” and “your” liberally—it pulls readers closer. When it doubt, speak to members as you want to be spoken to.

Strong voice. What’s yours? If the messaging you’re serving to your members could come from another plan or source, it’s not unique enough. Result: Your missives will be lost amid the literal and figurative din. How can your plan stand out? Think about your audience, your corporate values, and the differentiating attributes of the products you offer. Your voice will begin to emerge.

Chunks. Sorry to tell you, but your members aren’t looking forward to your next email or newsletter drop. Like the rest of us, they’re suffering from information overload. Your mission is to capture the attention of a blind person on a galloping horse. You have to make your messaging so compelling that members can’t resist reading, watching, or listening.

Don’t overlook the importance of slowing down the skimmer. This is how many people read these days—they’ll skim until something catches their attention, then begin reading more closely. Hook ’em with subheads, font changes, color shifts, captions, bullets, numbers, and charts within your copy. How do I know this works? You’re still reading, aren’t you?

Surprise. Advice is the bread and butter of service journalism. But you never want to tell members something they already know. The best tip is fresh, memorable, actionable, and practical. You want them to say, “Wow, I didn’t know that!” or “Whoa, I gotta try that!”

Clarity. Speak directly and succinctly. Wring extra words from every sentence like it’s a wet washcloth. Aim to cut everything you write by 20 percent—it’ll be better, I promise you. Prioritize clear over clever, but if you can do both, great. Start sentences with imperative verbs, like I have with all five sentences in this paragraph—they inspire action.

Finally, sell benefits readers can visualize. Not: “Have Fun Outdoors This Fall.” Instead: “5 Fall Hikes That Burn Calories and Put a Smile on Your Face.”

Step #5: Leave No Touchpoint Behind

Studying member data can only take you so far. To truly serve your member, you need to channel them—to be them.

What do they know and not know about their health and health plan? What are they worried about? What are they hopeful for? Anticipate their problems and provide answers before they ask.

Wherever your members are, you must be too: site, email, social, mailbox, Google, text, call center, and so on. Messaging must be consistent in substance and style on every platform.

Above all, remember that every touchpoint—no matter how small—is an opportunity to serve your members and deepen their affinity with your brand. It must all be world class.

When it is, you’ll win OEP. More importantly, you’ll win members over for life.

Bill Phillips is the Chief Content Officer at Linkwell Health, the leading digital content marketing company serving health plans and wellness organizations.

Download Our Free 2021 OEP Checklist