Most Medicare marketers are familiar with the challenges of direct mail marketing during Medicare’s Annual Election Period (AEP) including the short window of time – just over seven weeks. And don’t forget, we must all play by the rules! Preheat marketing helps Medicare Advantage (MA) plans build relationships and trust with prospects. It can also reignite communication with these prospects who may or may not hear from your plan throughout the year.
Some specific scenarios where preheat marketing could be especially effective include startup MA plans, plans moving into new geographic markets, plans announcing new branding or co-branding affiliations, or plans located in areas with large Original Medicare only populations. The Media Logic Healthcare Team keeps a close eye on messaging strategies used during this critical time of year. With the help of our friends at Mintel,* we compiled direct mail samples and found a few common themes.
Theme #1: Touting a plan’s 5-star rating
“If you’ve got it, flaunt it!” 5-star MA plans definitely have an advantage – they can market their benefits year-round. Examples include Martin’s Point and Kaiser Permanent who both feature their star ratings prominently in their copy. It’s a great way to tell Medicare-eligible beneficiaries to “avoid the rush” by enrolling or switching prior to October 15 to avoid AEP altogether.
In the sample below, note that Martin’s Point includes an explanation of what a 5-star rating means and why this should matter for Medicare beneficiaries. They also highlight the designation that they are the only local plan to earn 5 stars.
Of course, not every payer has a 5-star plan, and not every service area has access to a 5-star plan. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), approximately 68% of MA plans with Part D coverage (322 contracts) offered for 2022 earned 4 stars or higher for their 2022 overall rating, and 74 of these plans earned a 5-star rating for 2022. This number skyrocketed from 2021 where there were 21 5-star plan contracts. We expect more marketing of 5-star plans in the future.
Theme #2: Offers for materials to improve the Medicare shopping experience
A common strategy we see throughout AEP marketing is the use of incentives to entice people to request more information or make an appointment with an agent or broker. In the preheat direct mail package below from Highmark, the message to pre-order a free Medicare Roadmap by September 30 and receive a $10 Walmart gift card is featured prominently throughout.
Comparing Medicare plans can be challenging, because there are so many variables. Where do you start? Highmark encourages people to get their free online Medicare checklist to help prepare for AEP and ask the right questions when meeting with an agent or broker.
The penetration of large national health plans continues to grow. For regional health plans, playing on the local angle can be an effective way to counter position oneself. Blue Cross of Idaho is an example of a plan that’s doing that. Their direct mail pieces are localized by county and include messaging such as “For Idahoans, by Idahoans” and “Your home has been our home for over 75 years” while mentioning giving back to the local community through their foundation (“It’s the Idaho Way”). They also include an offer for a free Medicare for Idaho guide as a CTA.
Theme #3: Clear timelines to plan around
Given the inertia of many Medicare enrollees around switching, focusing on messages that prompt a more critical look at one’s current benefits and coverage can be an effective strategy to drive shopping interest. In addition to including a timeline of key AEP dates in their direct mail creative, BlueCross BlueShield of Alabama played on the uncertainty of times, and their Medicare Answer Booklet gives information including how Medicare Advantage and Medicare Supplement plans differ, a tool to help prospects better understand their options.
Capital Blue Cross’s messaging aims to build transparency with prospects by including creative with language about federal law and the inability to share benefit options before October 1. This helps to explain why the timeline and key dates are important during AEP.
Theme #4: Announcing branding or co-branding affiliations
In their preheat letter, IU Health Plans let’s prospects know about their affiliation with Indiana University Health and the benefits that come with this affiliation. This may help them differentiate from competitors.
Of course, direct mail isn’t the only Medicare AEP marketing campaign tactic that can carry preheat messaging! Preheat can also include digital ads, organic and paid social media, video marketing and DRTV as a great way to warm the market ahead of open enrollment. Media Logic offers a full complement of marketing services to help elevate your Medicare AEP marketing strategy. If you’re interested in learning more, contact Jim McDonald, head of Strategic Growth at 518-940-4882.
*Direct mail communications (screenshots) sourced from Mintel – a leading market intelligence agency.