While Medicare is often only a piece of a larger industry, for a few days it was the proverbial belle of the insurance ball in the glittering – from lights or sweat depends on whether it’s day or night – city of Las Vegas.
The inaugural Medicarians event, June 6 through 8, brought both MedSups and Medicare Advantage sides of the industry together to discuss the challenges of serving a rapidly aging boomer population. From emerging technology to regulatory challenges, the general consensus was that insurance is ultimately a people business, and will need people-based solutions as much as technological innovations.
While covering the business of aging is at the core of Medicare’s business, the age of the business was also a hot topic of discussion in sessions, with the producer population’s average age getting older and the lengthening lifespans of Americans both recurring as topics of discussion.
Another recurrent theme: Taking a strong digital approach is essential in the evolving Medicare market, but keeping producers happy, engaged, and freed up to work with consumers will continue to be at the center of Medicare – and the industry at large.
Life improvements – helping Medicare members live better lives
From the start, the Medicare conference noted the potential of emerging tech to change both the business of healthcare and the experience of aging in the U.S.
Jay Weintraub, Medicarians CEO, welcomed attendees and opened the conference with an introduction of Dag Kittlaus, whose resume includes spearheading the development of Siri, the app now ubiquitous in Apple products.
While Kittlaus was full of hilarious anecdotes – Steve Jobs calling him 34 days in a row to pitch Apple’s acquisition of the Siri app – $1 billion in app development that was recouped in 24 hours of initial iPhone 4S sales – being told he’d get anything he needed for development with no limitations, but “if you don’t make it work I’m going to f—ing kill you” – the tone was serious as he turned to his own cancer diagnosis and experience in healthcare and hospitals.
Kittlaus’s time on stage turned from app-entrepreneur rockstar to acknowledging that his unique background gave him the perspective, vision, and means to actually address some of the drag on the healthcare system. He introduced the app he has in production, Riva, which uses light to measure blood pulse wavelength, essentially making it possible to take blood pressure multiple times a day with just the flashlight feature of one’s phone.
“Heart disease is the number one killer in the world, and yet [the devices we use to manage it] are built on hundreds-of-years-old tech like stethoscopes,” said Kittlaus. “Imagine managing conditions like Type-2 diabetes and hypertension with data, making it accessible to people and their doctors.” Side note: We’ve discussed this not-so-distant technology and its impact on the industry before.
Also among the visionaries asking Medicare-adjacent insurers to dream bigger was Ashley Tyrner, CEO and founder of FarmBoxRX, a company that collaborates with Medicare Advantage plans to send plan members medically tailored meals and food prep resources.
With culturally specific options and plans built to address dietary restrictions, Tyrner argued that, since Advantage members are frequently most likely to be lower income, food benefits could play a significant role in enrollment and retention into the future of the program.
Regulatory outlook for Medicare
Attendees were abuzz with concern for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid services (CMS) rule going into effect June 28, 2022. The rule mandates that carriers and agencies keep recordings of all Medicare Advantage and Part D “marketing” conversations.
As lobbyist Janet Trautwein from the National Association of Health Underwriters (NAHU) was quick to point out, a few vagaries have yet to be settled as the rule approaches its effective date.
Call record maintenance
As anyone who’s received a “voicemail full” notice can attest, audio files take up space. So it’s impractical to store records indefinitely. And controls for who may access, review, or audit the voicemails lack clarity.
What constitutes marketing?
“‘Marketing’ covers a variety of sins” – someone in business, probably
The reality is that “marketing” has a variety of meanings and interpretations, and an insurance firm’s existing clients may need plan maintenance, but a broad interpretation of the rule may hold that if you end up discussing Medicare options with your client — even if that wasn’t the original purpose of the call, or even if it was client-initiated —you may have to record it.
While much of the conference discussed how to drive digital app adoption, sessions and discussions about the voicemail rule adoption frequently touched on the advantages of meeting in-person for a wet signature, since in-person discussions don’t require audio records.
Undoubtedly, once CMS issues a rule to address these obscured areas and the rule reaches full implementation, this will be an area ripe for digital disruption.
Shoring up Medicare funds
Despite semi-dire predictions that the Medicare trust fund will run dry in the next five to seven years, only the NAHU presentation included serious commentary on possible fixes. Trautwein maintained that failure to address the critical welfare infrastructure would be “political suicide” for both sides of the aisle.
Agents into the future
Many of the conference’s techsters aimed heavily at helping Medicare-adjacent businesses and their producers adapt and prospect for new business. These are the topics everyone wants to talk about after all – prospecting, maximizing sales, etc. Yet, several panels and discussion topics leaned into more serious industry-wide themes.
Medicare may be a nichey and exceptional slice of the insurance industry, but it isn’t an exception to the demographic shifts of the nation on the whole. As boomers enter retirement, Medicare has experienced a glut of enrollees. Similarly, agents are leaving the industry, often after decades of work in the field, and often with no clear successor or replacement to manage their books of business.
At AgentSync we’re all for automation and digital processes when they make sense, but, as our CEO and co-founder Niji Sabharwal espoused from stage at the conference, Medicare decisions are too important to consumers to just throw it all to the robots. The nature of current industry options means that health history, personal financial situation, and even the county you live in all have a significant impact on which healthcare options work best for you. And people generally want to talk through their options with knowledgeable experts.
Among the proposed solutions to the coming producer shortage (and consumers’ ever- increasing service expectations), some of the more intriguing included:
- A company proposed to onboard new patients through a journalistic, story-based perspective that makes carrier data collection part of a seamless experience for new members, who can take an hour or more to tell their personal story. The company purported to increase stick rates for policyholders as well as collecting more accurate and detailed information to help make plan placement better.
- Some startups are dedicated to moving data collected by carriers into the hands of producers so they could more accurately serve clientele while reducing the repetition of data collection that many consumers find nauseating. Among the challenges they face: HIPAA and elder financial abuse.
- A panel discussion revolved around the idea of recruiting agents of various demographics to make inroads into sales in diverse and growing communities.
- Another panel took aim at best practices for producers to pass on their book of business and craft an exit strategy. Among attendees, this was a major concern, as agency employees spoke of policyholders struggling to find service after the death of a producer, or of concerns about data compliance after being denied access to a deceased producer’s home office.
Overall, there was wide agreement across sessions that producers are both the pain point and the answer to many retention and satisfaction woes: “Brokers’ net promoter scores – NPS – for those aging into Medicare is negative 50. Even for people who have been retired a while, their score only gets to negative 15,” said Barry Streit, CEO of Barry Streit Consulting. “At this point drug dealers have higher NPS scores than Medicare brokers.”
Yet, tech can put more client data in the hands of their Medicare producer and streamlined processes can give those same producers more time face-to-face with clients. More interpersonal time can pivot producers from strictly sales roles to roles of service. Instead of placing as many people in policies as possible, tech-enabled producers whose carriers have realigned their incentives with retention and relationship building can focus more on helping procure the right coverage, incentivizing health outcomes for members, and engaging in long-term health policy service.
If happy producers are key to happy Medicare enrollees, see how AgentSync can make your producers’ onboarding experience a delight this Medicare enrollment season