LAS VEGAS — One of most anticipated sessions at RISE’s 12th Annual Medicare Marketing & Sales Summit in February was a town hall discussion about the Medicare Advantage (MA) market. The panel was moderated by Hank Osowski, managing partner, Strategic Health Group, LLC, and included executives from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC), Scan Health Plan in California, and MediGold in Ohio, who discussed the inclusion of supplemental benefits into health plan offerings in 2019, how those offerings might change in 2020, and how they are able to stand out in an increasingly competitive market. Here is what we learned.

The impact of supplemental benefits on 2019 enrollment

In April 2018 the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced new policies that allowed MA plans to offer more supplemental benefits in the 2019 contract year and have more flexibility in how they offer the benefits.

This flexibility allowed Blue Cross NC to add a hearing aid benefit to its products, but Naomi Irvin, manager, divisional compliance–sales, marketing & communications, said she isn’t sure it made a dramatic difference in enrollment.

Although the supplemental benefits may not have had a direct sales impact, Irvin said that incorporating them into their products will allow the organization to address social determinants of health as part of its brand message. “The payoff may be in a different way than enrollment,” she said.

A sneak peek at benefit design plans for 2020

All the panelists indicated that design plan discussions for 2020 were in the early stages, but Jill V. Selby, corporate vice president, strategic initiatives/product development, Scan Health Plan in California, said the benefits offered will reflect the organization’s mission to keep members healthy and independent. The not-for-profit health plan focuses exclusively on MA products, and the average age of its members is 76-years-old. “We want to keep them living at home and connect them to the community,” she said.

Marketing efforts in an increasingly competitive market

Jamie Benedict, vice president, chief strategic growth officer for MediGold, said they try to compete in areas where they can differentiate themselves. For example, the small health plan can promote the fact that if its members call with a question or concern, they can count on the fact that an actual employee will pick up the phone

The organization also has a volunteer program for employees to give back to the community, such as helping seniors with gardening and yard work, building a ramp for a resident in need, or sorting and packing groceries at a local foodbank. The company posts picture of these activities on its Facebook page, and the visibility helps promote that the insurer puts its members and providers first.

 “The second highest lead source we have is family and friend referrals, and that is virtually free for us,” she said. “When was the last time you sat around and talked about how much an insurance company has done for you? People do it about MediGold because of how we treat them…Those are the opportunities for small organizations to show who you are and relate to them.” 

Blue Cross NC has an advantage because it’s been in the community for more than 80 years and many residents have grown up with it. Irvin said that the insurer tries to leverage that name recognition with the fact that its retail centers are available year-round, and agents can help members with any question they have about their plan. “We want them to see the health plan in a different way than just filing a claim,” she said

Although it’s not common for someone in an administrative role to go out in the field, Selby said that she makes a point of meeting with medical groups and brokers, who sell about 50 percent of Scan's business. “For those of us who use brokers to sell our business, if brokers are selling for 7 to 10 carriers, what sets your product apart? Being local has its advantages. My sales team has me in front of 2,000 brokers to convey what the benefits are about, and it’s a big part of them understanding who you are,” she said.