Ready? Set? Sell!
With the health insurance industry’s busiest sales season just around the corner, now is the time to get organized for your best year yet.
Fall’s fast approach brings with it more than pumpkin spice lattes and long leaf-peeping weekends. This time of year, more so than any other, is when insurance agents and brokers are most likely to bring in new customers and shore up existing business.
The open enrollment period for Medicare coverage, otherwise known as the Annual Enrollment Period (AEP), kicks off Oct. 15, and runs through Dec. 7, 2021. During this 54-day period, your Medicare clients can make changes to their existing coverage, switch plans, or disenroll altogether.
Fast on its heels falls the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) annual Open Enrollment Period (OEP), scheduled to run Nov. 1 through Dec. 7. During this 45-day sprint, anyone under or over the age of 65 can enroll in a Qualified Health Plan (QHP) through the ACA Marketplace, as well as make changes to existing plans. Short of a qualifying life event or a Special Enrollment Period (SEP), folks who miss this window can’t make changes again until the next OEP rolls around.
Whether it’s your first time at the rodeo or you’re a seasoned agent or broker, this year’s open enrollment period guarantees unique challenges and opportunities. Arriving in the lingering shadow of a public health and economic crisis that’s reverberated from Wall Street to Main Street, millions of Americans continue to grapple with health insurance needs and concerns.
At the peak of the COVID-spurred economic crash and resulting swell of unemployment, upwards of 5.4 million people lost their coverage, spurring what some call the greatest loss of health insurance in American history. Even as businesses re-open and employment gains rebound, health coverage needs continue to grow and shift, both for those recovering from COVID-related illnesses and for families that want to make sure they’re covered for whatever as the world around us more fully re-opens.
As an agent or broker, that’s a lot to prepare for, but we’re here to help! With a little organization, you can set yourself up for a smooth and profitable sales season, starting now, using our Open Enrollment Period checklist:
Certification & Training
First on your list is making sure you’ve completed the necessary certifications, licensing requirements, and training prior to AEP and OEP kick-off. Under the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) guidelines, new and returning agents and brokers must undergo training either through the Marketplace Learning Management System (MLMS) or a CMS-approved vendor.To sell Medicare and remain in CMS compliance, you’re required to receive or renew certification from America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP). Additionally, you will need to attain or renew your resident state health insurance producer license and undergo individual carrier certifications to sell. Because these can take time, it’s best to get started sooner rather than later so you can focus on selling when enrollment windows open up.
Tools of the Trade
Are you armed with the carrier supplies and collateral you will need to answer client questions? Before you even start sending emails, scheduling meetings, or quoting prospects, take the time to review your portfolio of carrier product offerings and make sure you’re stocked up on supporting materials.
That includes digital assets, brochures, and client leave-behinds for supplemental Medicare policies, as well as dental, vision, and accident coverage.
Save the Date
To fully optimize your funnel and stay on track, you’ll need to keep up with critical dates regarding deadlines, cut-offs, and more. Here’s a few to mark on your calendar:
- Oct. 15 - Dec. 7, 2021: Open Enrollment Period for 2022 Medicare coverage
- Jan. 1 - March 31, 2022: Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period
- Jan. 1- March 31, 2022”: Medicare Part A / Part B General Enrollment Period
- Nov. 1 - Dec. 15: Open enrollment for 2022 ACA coverage (Note: The Biden administration has proposed a 30-day extension, and end dates may vary by the 36 states that have adopted the Marketplace)
- Nov. 1 - Jan. 31: California has permanently extended the enrollment period, both for on and off-exchange plans
- November 1 - January 15: Colorado’s Division of Insurance has also extended its window
- Nov. 1 - Jan. 31: The Exchange Board in Washington D.C. opted to run open enrollment through the end of January.
Now is the time to take a closer look at what’s happening in local and emerging markets. That includes new carriers entering the market, Marketplace changes by state, new product offerings from carriers, and any new or pending legislation that may impact Medicare or ACA Marketplace activity.
For instance, the Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan (ARP), enacted in spring, not only helped lower out-of-pocket costs for many ACA Marketplace health plans, but also includes tax credits and subsidies that may benefit your clientele. Additionally, CMS recently announced an estimated 5% increase in Medicare Part D premiums, and continues to debate ongoing, post-COVID care services such as telehealth.
Start bookmarking informative news and institutional sites on Google now that will help stay informed in the long-run and make it a habit to surf these sites every day to check for updates.
The Best Laid Plans
If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to begin laying out your goals for the AEP and OEP marketing plan and make sure you have a powerful, customizable tracking tool to help manage your funnel.
As you know, health insurance marketing for Medicare is ruled by strictly enforced guidelines. CMS rules prohibit marketing of the next plan year until Oct. 1 - that includes social media, emails, and direct mail. Additionally, sales and marketing events must be registered with the carrier. When in doubt, contact the carrier directly.
With an increasing market and appetite for robust health coverage, as well as a semi-locked down population, it’s not surprising that AEP direct and digital marketing efforts began to dramatically increase in 2020. That trend is expected to continue, and extends not only to new customers, but your existing book of business as well.
According to Competiscan’s Medicare Advantage Survey, consistent engagement is key to success. That’s particularly true with over-65 consumers, 59% of whom indicated they feel “positively engaged” with their Medicare Advantage Plan provider, and their interaction preference is once a month.
The survey also found that while new offerings such as telehealth and wellness incentive programs are attractive, top concerns among seniors seeking new or enhanced Medicare Advantage plans include “access to providers and physicians, doctor visits with low or no deductibles, and low out-of-pocket costs.”
All are important factors to consider when creating your enrollment marketing plan.
As October creeps closer on the calendar, organizing yourself and your workflow now is imperative to keeping up the pace and remaining focused when it’s game time.
As research clearly indicates, your customer set (including seniors) are becoming more and more tech-savvy, and their footprint is increasing. Additionally, the Competiscan survey indicated that virtual meetings are, at least for now, preferable to in-person get-togethers.
If you’re not already equipped with tech tools to help you stay a step ahead and make the most of your clients’ time (not to mention your own), now’s the time to test and invest. A quote-and-enroll software tool like Quotit ePro, for instance, enables you to compare pricing and plans from hundreds of providers in minutes, as well as generate proposals on the fly. If you’re not sure you’re ready to commit, you can try a practice run to be sure.
Remember, the coming weeks will pass quickly and go-time will be here before you know it. Make the most of this busy season by taking action every day between now and then to move closer to your sales goals. Prep like a pro and you’ll not only survive this hectic time, but also thrive when it ends!