Although the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with the upcoming presidential election, may limit health plans’ reach, there are still opportunities to connect with prospective members and engage with your current members.

As cases of COVID-19 continue to spread across the United States, Medicare Advantage health plans have had to overhaul their strategies to enroll new members and retain existing ones. Since seniors are among the most vulnerable to serious illness from COVID-19, it is unlikely that plans will be able to conduct in-person meetings as they have in the past.

Although the pandemic, combined with the upcoming presidential election, may limit health plans’ reach, there are still opportunities to connect with prospective members and engage with your current members. Here are four takeaways we’ve gathered from the July RISE virtual seminar, Converting During COVID: Winning Strategies for Medicare Member Acquisition & Experience.

Conduct virtual meetings in place of in-person meetings

For BlueCross Blue Shield of Western New York, the Microsoft Teams communication platform has allowed the health plan to create an in-person type experience and engage clients. Thomas Sass, director, consumer markets, told attendees that the platform has been easy to use and allows the sales team to book appointments and record sessions, which is critical in the lead up to the annual enrollment period (AEP). The app sends out reminders about the meetings and instructions in advance so seniors receive information ahead of time and can feel comfortable with the technology. The health plan does have five Medicare retail centers and may open them for in-person appointments when it is safe to do so, but Sass believes the virtual meetings are a good substitute to build relationships because seniors can see the faces of sales reps rather than rely on a voice on the phone.

“Virtual meetings are here to stay…I definitely see this as an area of focus for us,” he said.

Follow best practices for virtual meetings

Judie Victor, sales manager, SCAN Health Plan, suggests that health plans be open to using different apps, such as FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom, as well as Microsoft Teams, and let the prospective member decide on which one to use.

Make sure clients have the plan information in advance of the meeting (some reps drop off hard copy information at the client’s doorstep) and take advantage of the ability to share your screen so you can walk them through the information. Victor also suggests brokers and sales representatives have PDFs of all plans, and information on formularies, and the list of doctors in the networks for reference on their desktops. She also recommends that they have any collateral they use for in-person meetings next to their computer or phone.

Her other tips: Be on time for the meeting and dress for success (some of her sales reps wear business jackets with their name tags on the lapel). She also suggests conducting mock presentations with field representatives because some may be great at in-person face-to-face meetings but not necessarily at the virtual ones. For example, during a mock presentation, one of the reps went straight into information about the plan, instead of easing into the conversation. Victor says it’s important to make the client feel comfortable, ask how they are doing, before going into the presentation.  

She also suggests that sales reps keep the presentations concise and meetings to under an hour.

Create other opportunities to connect with potential members

In addition to one-on-one virtual meetings, HealthTexas Medical Group has developed relationships with prospective members by scheduling events, such as produce giveaways and  a 30-minute live exercise group on Facebook Live that it calls Fitness Fridays, said Tricia Lopez, executive marketing director. Both have been successful.

The medical group also has interacted with agents and brokers during the pandemic by conducting a CEO doc talk where they could ask questions via a Zoom meeting and also conducts community virtual meetings on topics like depression and COVID-19 information.

Some agents still want to meet with clients in-person but in a safe manner. So, they bring lunch to the client and they “picnic on the porch” while social distancing. Some have weekly coffee chats. The important thing, she said, is to be visible.

Victor said SCAN has also created virtual flower arrangement classes, yoga classes, and even a “Scattergories” game with scratch paper. During the seminar, other plans said they had arranged for a virtual Bingo, a virtual cooking class, and even a virtual painting class.

Don’t forget to engage existing members

Louis Yacovoni, senior director, Medicare sales, Geisinger Gold, said it is important that Medicare Advantage plans also spend time on activities to retain members. Plans spend so much time and money to acquire members, it’s vital that they take the time to retain them. “Every time we lose a member, we need two to make up for the one,” he said. COVID-19 has provided an opportunity to talk to members in a different way than the plan normally would and let them know about their existing benefits. Their message to members: You don’t have to leave your house, we will take care of you. If you want a televisit, there is a $0 copay. The health plan also reinforced mail-order pharmacy and refill discount benefits.

Since sales and field reps couldn’t go out and sell, the plan had them call Geisinger Gold’s newest members (one year or less) to review their benefits. They also contacted the plan’s most critical patients to explain the Geisinger At Home benefit for people with Geisinger Gold insurance. The Medical management team (doctors, nurses, dieticians) will visit the patients at home to treat them.

Steve Selinsky, vice president, Health Alliance Plan, agreed that health plans must focus on retention as part of their sales strategy. As a result of COVID-19, the health plan beefed up its social media presence and posted daily messages that educated members and held virtual town halls on Facebook Live to address any questions they had.

Health Alliance Plan also repurposed its community outreach team and had them make outbound calls to at-risk members to check on them. This allowed the plan to connect members to community resources if they had food and housing issues in addition to medical concerns. For example, one Medicare member was isolated at home and couldn’t get her medications, so the community resources rep arranged for her to get the prescriptions delivered. The member appreciated the outreach. “They were so impressed their insurer took time to reach out to them…The member couldn’t believe an insurance company was checking in on them,” he said.

As a result, the plan pleases to weave these strategies into the member journey going forward.

One health plan also went the extra mile for its existing members. When Inter Valley Health Plan realized that COVID-19 wasn’t going away any time soon and saw news coverage about people searching for masks, the plan purchased 20,000 masks and sent one to all its members.

“It was a challenge and it was an expensive thing to pull off, but it was a great thing. We got a ton of emails, phone calls, and pictures on social media with posts saying thank you…It was a big win for us,” said Larry Baca, VP sales & marketing, Inter Valley Health Plan.