Unable to attend RISE’s January webinar that examined the 2020 Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) and emerging trends in the Medicare Advantage (MA) marketplace? We have you covered. Here’s a summary of what we learned.

The webinar, Medicare Marketing & Sales: Lessons and Insights from AEP for 2020, featured nine industry experts and RISE Medicare Member Acquisition & Experience Advisory Board members, who gathered to discuss their observations from the latest AEP and how plans can use these insights to form their strategy for next year. Here are five takeaways:

The national Medicare Advantage (MA) market continues to grow and shows no sign of slowing down. Based on recent data, the market grew 1.5 million lives last year, according to Sion Hughes, consultant, market and provider strategy, Wakely Consulting Group. Over the past six years, the MA market has grown 6 percent each year–except for last year when it grew 10 percent. “There is a large shift in interest in Medicare Advantage and it is important to focus on Medicare Advantage as a strategy going forward,” he said.

In nearly all markets, lower premium plans are the ones that typically grow. Higher premium plans generally have older, aging populations and don’t replace the members they are losing, he said.

He also noted that plans are trying to figure out how to operationalize benefits that address social determinants of health (SDoH). It will likely be two to three years before plans see the return on investment of these benefits, according to Hughes.

The addition of supplemental benefits in plans influenced consumer shopping and switching of plans. It’s important that plans understand what consumers value so they can be more competitive in the market. Tim Brousseau, vice president client services, Deft Research, said that dental, over-the-counter (OTC) allowance, and transportation were among the most popular benefits offered this year. In many cases, transportation was tied to SDoH so that patients could get to the grocery store as well as rides to doctor appointments after discharge from the hospital.

Competition is fierce, but there are opportunities for provider-sponsored partnerships. Cyndie O’Brien, chief sales and marketing officer, for Aspire Health Plan, a regional MA plan in northern California, said that 414 MA plans were added to the national marketplace this year—a 15 percent increase. The overall growth in the MA market is staggering, she said.  The average beneficiary has 28 plans to choose from. To compete against big plans like UnitedHealthcare and Humana, regional plans should look to grow their provider-sponsored partnerships, she said.

Digital marketing efforts generated more leads this year. Although digital efforts have always been good at driving leads, Rachel Silva, vice president of strategy & innovation for DMW, was struck by the volume of the leads this year. She noted that leads for beneficiaries increase when there is a combination of efforts like direct mail, digital marketing, and direct response TV (DRTV). She stressed the importance of making sure your website serves as the hub for all the information as most marketing efforts will point consumers to the website so they can learn more about your plan. Make sure you budget properly so you can reach the right people at the right time.  She also recommends that you have the right call to action in all forms of marketing, including written communications, video, infographics, and imagery.

The user experience matters. Kristy Croom Tucker, director of member experience and acquisition for BayCare Health Plans, which offers a provider-sponsored MA health plan in the Tampa Bay area in an extremely competitive market—beneficiaries have 102 plans to choose from. To stand out among the crowd, Tucker said that the plan made sure their call of action and the website’s URL were prominent in every marketing piece. The plan also tracked responses at the television station level to determine which stations offered BayCare the most visibility.

To help prepare for their continued move into digital channels, the plan also focused on the user experience in 2019. “If you have a website and if you aren’t doing a regular analysis of the user experience on your site, you should,” she said. The plan tracked ever single button and page on the site to see how users interacted. “After the AEP, we saw how people were engaging in the site, where they were getting stuck and saw opportunities for optimization.,” she said. As a result, the plan reordered buttons on the page and enhanced the searchability function for the provider directory and formulary. “With all the user experience, we made it simple for people.”

She also recommends that people think about the digital footprint that they leave on social media channels. For example, the plan makes sure to treat all visitors to its Facebook page as members and regularly posts new content that focuses on how they can enhance their health. Alicia Kelley, director of Medicare sales, Capital District Physicians’ Health Plan, Inc, also said the plan has had success advertising events on Facebook.  Members have commented on Facebook how much they enjoy the plan. “It was a great unintended consequence to get advocates who stand up and give their positive experience with the plan,” she said.

Editor's note: RISE will take a deeper dive into changes in Medicare shopping trends at the upcoming conference, The 13th Annual Medicare Marketing & Sales SummitFebruary 25-26, at The Venetian, Las Vegas. Click here for the full agenda.