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Fall, Football and Medicare

I love Fall. Halloween, back-to-school, nature’s change of scenery, and my beloved Seattle Seahawks taking to the field. But now as a healthcare marketer with a focus on Medicare clients, I’ve added another favorite to the Fall list – Medicare’s Annual Election Period (AEP) and the thrill of the sales and marketing race for success.

This year in particular, political distraction is creeping-in – but that’s probably a drop in the bucket compared to what next year will bring. With political ad spending expected to rise 59 percent in 2020 – it’s likely that AEP 2021 will be significantly shaped by its impact.

In sports as in life, focusing on the fundamentals matters the most when the stakes are highest. That made me wonder about the similarities between a successful AEP and championship football:

  • The importance of a great off-season — Probably the most obvious similarity is also the one with the biggest potential for impact. While all eyes are on the prize of the AEP, having a great offseason can all but seal your success. It matters so much in the NFL that teams are graded on how they did. In Medicare, with the understandable emphasis on acquisition goals in the AEP, often marketers overlook the opportunity to be equally disciplined and strategic in their approach to the rest of the calendar year. Whether it’s via an ongoing marketing strategy for the New to Medicare audience (growing ever more important), or with member initiatives– don’t ignore the lock-in. The right “always on” approach can set you up to meet your member goals, and leave you less vulnerable to the AEP.
  • Getting out of the gate quickly gives your season the foundation it needs in football. After all, the stakes, and confidence can increase with every week. As true as this is in sports, it is amplified in Medicare’s ten-week AEP. Making sure that you position yourself well to come out strong October 1 is a major tenant for success. You’re nodding your head now if you’ve faced missed deadlines in campaign development, because those days are typically unrecoverable in a window where there is no time to waste. Be sure you are positioned well, and that your internal and external partners do what it takes to get you there.
  • Practice matters. Players who don’t miss practice are consistently the best on the field. And marketers who test, measure and apply those results to their efforts typically achieve the same result. Continuous improvement.
  • Loyalty. Is sports loyalty today to the team or to the players? In today’s game, the players move teams more than ever before, and it really tests the bounds of fan-dome. Consider Medicare plans and the opportunities to offer broadened ancillary benefits. Last year, inclusion of those benefits led to a dynamic referred to as “due diligence shopping” – where members who were satisfied with their plan, shopped to ensure that they got the best fit that the market had to offer. Count on it continuing. And with the OEP rules allowing switching from January 1 – March 31 if they are not happy with their plan selection, member communication matters. A lot. Consider allocating enough budget to member communication efforts in the first quarter to ward off attrition concerns. 
  • Finally, leadership matters. No roster does it alone. In the NFL, it’s the combination of coach, general manager, owner and maybe even quarterback. In healthcare – beyond what happens in your plan – consider your agency partnership. Are you getting what you need to make those deadlines, reach your goals, and promote your benefits to the right audience in the right ways? Be sure your staff has the support of the right partner and agency, bringing it all together.