Tip 5—Ensuring Your Success
In the last 4 tips, we’ve shared some good insights on acquiring and retaining new Medicare members. In Tip 5, we’re going to look at some key elements that can help your day-to-day operations. It’s important to remember that being efficient, accurate and compliant helps to keep costs down and build trust with your audience. It’s equally important to ensure that your vendor and agency partners support these goals. In the eyes of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), you are ultimately accountable for the performance of not only your organization, but the outside organizations you hire and work with as well.
CMS PLEDGES TO PUT PATIENTS FIRST
CMS’s goal is to make sure that Medicare consumers have meaningful information about plan quality and costs so they can make well-informed decisions. As a result, every July, CMS publishes an update to the comprehensive Medicare Marketing Guidelines (MMGs). This document is designed to help marketers communicate effectively to their audiences and stay in compliance. Plans include:
- Medicare Advantage Plans
- Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug Plans
- Prescription Drug Plans
- Union Sponsored Group Health Plans
- Medicare-Medicaid Plans
- Section 1876 Cost Plans
THE RISK OF NONCOMPLIANCE
CMS works alongside the states to enforce Title XXVII of the Public Health Service Act (PHS Act), to ensure that consumers in all states have protections. If your marketing materials are found to be out of compliance, it can be costly. Your organization could be audited, fined and, in egregious cases, even restricted from marketing for a period of time. What’s more, when materials are out of compliance they often have to be revised, resubmitted and reprinted. That’s a terrible cost in terms of both time and budget—not to mention a big blow to your client’s confidence in your abilities.
BEST PRACTICES FOR STAYING COMPLIANT
At KERN Health, we advise you to familiarize yourself with the Medicare Marketing Guidelines and follow them to a T. Here are some different suggestions for building a process to help you achieve your compliance goals:
- Create a special department whose sole mission is to understand, interpret and review marketing materials to assure compliance
- If your plan can’t afford to start its own department, you can enlist proofreaders to take on the responsibility of learning and applying the guidelines
- Hire MMG specialists who work on a contract basis—but note that they are often quite busy during the run-up to AEP, so it can be challenging to get advice promptly
- Have everyone on the Account and Creative teams go over the guidelines every year. CMS.gov also offers The Medicare Learning Network, which offers free, 24/7 access to web-based training courses, including Medicare Parts C and D General Compliance Training.
- Develop checklists. They are invaluable for the Creative and Proofreading staff to help ensure that the materials developed are compliant.
There is good news: The more you work with the MMGs, the easier they are to implement. But you must be prepared—there are no shortcuts. You have to commit and invest to ensure that your organization has representatives who are steeped in this important knowledge.
THE IMPORTANCE OF STYLE GUIDES
To say that Medicare work is complex would be an understatement. Not only are there CMS rules that have to be honored, but there are also visual issues for the Medicare audience that have to be addressed, along with cognitive issues that make it extra important to keep content clear and simple. If you don’t have a dedicated team that creates all your Medicare marketing, chances are you’ll be sharing the work inside and outside of your organization with teams that need to get up to speed quickly. It’s worth the time and effort to create a style guide that gives everyone who develops and reviews your Medicare marketing materials a clear road map with regard to the appropriate typefaces, color palette, style of photography and tone of voice. While style guides do take time to create, the time it will save you on the back end—maintaining quality and consistency, and helping you to create more effective materials—is immeasurable.
FINDING THE RIGHT AGENCY PARTNER
Like any other team experience, you want a partner that is not going to make more work for you—or worst of all, put you in compliance jeopardy. Here are some factors we recommend looking for in an agency partner:
- It’s better to find an organization that already has proven experience marketing Medicare plans. The learning curve will then revolve around your brand and your products. Otherwise, the agency will have to get up to speed on EVERYTHING, and that can be challenging—especially under tight schedules.
- We believe it takes a certain temperament to create Medicare materials. The agency has to be willing to do the due diligence it takes to get things right. If the agencies you’re reviewing don’t have the account experience that proves they’re detail-oriented (accounts like Medicare, healthcare, pharma, financial, etc.), keep looking.
- While direct marketing is still the workhorse, Medicare marketing is becoming more and more of a multichannel experience. Your agency should be proficient in DM, digital/mobile, SEM, OOH, social, traditional media and collateral.
- You’re going to be working very closely with your agency partner, so compatibility is crucial.
- Ask yourself these questions:
- How responsive do they seem?
- Is the prospective agency aware of what’s going on in the marketplace? Are they familiar with your competition’s strengths and weaknesses and how your plan can capitalize on all that?
- Are they savvy in the ways of new media, bringing you valuable ideas and insights? Or are they simply doing what you tell them to do?
- Is their staff big enough to handle the workload? And if they bring in freelancers, how will you know they’re being trained properly to create compliant Medicare materials?
- How accountable are they? This is important to know. Because if an error does get out, how will they fix it? Will they step up and resolve it? Or will they sidestep?
- How clear are their processes? You need to make sure their approval processes are simple to follow, so there are no version-control issues.
- And finally, do they have a sense of humor? Because here at KERN, we guarantee that humor really helps to keep everything in perspective and get this work done well.
Want to learn more about the best practices for successful Medicare marketing? Email Denise Graham, Account Director at KERN Health, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or call her direct line at 818-449-4468. We’ll be happy to arrange a meeting to answer any questions you may have.
In addition to her agency Account Management background, Denise has worked for multiple health plans, including Kaiser Permanente and PacifiCare. She has spent much of her career promoting Individual and Families and Medicare healthcare products. She was a key player in the development of Kaiser’s “Total Health” brand strategy and implementation in addition to the acclaimed “Thrive” marketing and ad campaign.
Boni is a Medicare specialist with over 9 years of experience marketing to Medicarians. As an Associate Creative Director, she leads the Medicare creative development team at KERN Health.