Since COVID-19, otherwise known as coronavirus disease, surfaced in China at the end of last year, consumers have been bombarded with media coverage and corporate communications about the spread of the pandemic, the necessary precautions, the state of the global economy, and changes to operations, most of which has been less than positive.
In particular throughout this news cycle, the various health organizations, such as the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO), have continued to emphasize that older adults and people with preexisting conditions are at a higher risk for serious COVID-19 illness. Many of those people have Medicare.
Because of this, Medicare beneficiaries are understandably confused and scared. There is an unfortunate amount of false information being distributed, and every news organization has their “spin” on the coronavirus disease. How do they know what is real? Where can they go for reliable and accurate information? This uncertainty is compounded by being stuck in isolation, which can lead to or worsen depression. Medicare beneficiaries are extremely vulnerable right now, and they need a voice of reason, a source of truthful and factual information to calm their fears. As a health plan, you can be that voice.
What should be communicated to members?
Health plans have access to a wealth of knowledge about COVID-19 that can and should be shared with beneficiaries. If you haven’t already, you can be helping members understand:
- What is coronavirus disease and the seriousness of the virus to the Medicare population
- The symptoms of the coronavirus
- What to do if the beneficiary believes they have the virus
- What actions to take to prevent the beneficiary from contracting the virus
- How to stay healthy both physically and mentally
- Any changes in benefits during this time, such as:
- Telehealth Benefit: What is it and what can it be used for? Who should the beneficiary call for a telehealth visit? Are there copays when using the telehealth benefit?
- Prescription Drug Benefits: Are there any changes to copays or refill amounts?
- Access: What happens if someone is not at home and needs to see a doctor?
How should a health plan communicate to members?
As important as the content of your message is, the method by which you deliver it is also important. Members need this critical information to exist in a place where they can easily access and understand it. Some suggestions include:
- Your Website: Dedicate a section of your website/member website and/or build a landing page to address all of the communications topics listed above. Continue to fill those pages with daily content to update members. (For example, an FAQ section or Q&A from your medical director would be very meaningful.) This will help you become the source of truth.
- Mail: Send a letter to all members explaining the expanded benefits granted by CMS, including any changes to current benefits for members, and then direct them to your website/landing page for the most up-to-date information.
- Nurse Line: If not already done, consider adding plan-specific scripting for potential member questions. This can include the availability of after-hours support, the potential risks for contracting the virus, what members should do if they have a fever, where members can go for testing or if symptomatic, and prescription drug access.
- Email: Email helps you communicate quickly and efficiently. Members should receive updates at least weekly during this time to reinforce that you are there for them, reiterate benefit changes, and share other critical updates. Always direct them to your website/landing page for the most up-to-date information.
- Social Media: Facebook should be updated frequently with helpful lifestyle tips, such as how to get food delivered, senior hours at stores, and other information that might be beneficial. Use your most effective social media platforms to educate your members and nonmembers about the virus, as well as the expanded telehealth benefits available. Direct them to your website/landing page for the most up-to-date information.
- Health Plan App: Use this as an additional channel for the latest facts and information, and direct members to your website/landing page for the most up-to-date information.
- SEO: Optimize your website/landing page for search in order to bring members and nonmembers to your site. It’s important for truthful and factual information to be at the top of search results to drown out false claims and “spin.” Plus, you might also pick up a couple new members during the process!
- Customer Service: Give your representatives the tools they need to be successful. They will be getting many calls and should have strong communication guidance to deal with the multitude of member questions. Consider a special task force of customer service members/clinical providers to be available to answer members’ complicated questions.
- Public Relations: Seek out interview opportunities on the radio, TV and in print to help disseminate truthful and factual information to members and nonmembers alike.
- Webinar: For a more creative approach, a webinar on coronavirus disease and how your health plan is working to support members allows you to get as close as possible to a “face-to-face” interaction while members are quarantined and staying in their homes.
- Care Management: Conduct additional outreach to members who are the most vulnerable due to multiple comorbidities or high-risk illnesses such as heart disease, lung diseases and diabetes.
How often should a health plan communicate?
During this time, overcommunicating is actually a great idea. Adding web content daily is not too much. Sending weekly emails or emails as soon as you have significant information to share is not too much. Adding daily updates to Facebook is not too much, especially when Facebook content can be fun and informative (and many need a little fun right now). People want to know that their health plan is there to support them, and being in constant communication with helpful, truthful, and factual information is one way you can show that.
Who else should health plans be sending communications?
Members should be your highest priority, as they are the most vulnerable right now. But keep in mind the other audiences impacted by COVID-19 who also need to be hearing from you:
- Providers: Providers need your full support in standing up a telehealth benefit and understanding how to properly bill it. Multiple methods and communications should be utilized to partner with providers on telehealth.
- Brokers: In many situations, your brokers are your voice, and you want them to be educated on what is happening. Broker emails, portal communications, and webinars are all strong methods of communication to keep them informed and up to date on the latest developments. Plus, they should be made aware of how and when you are communicating to members.
- Outreach Partners: Ensure State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIP) and other organizations are aware of benefit changes and the lines of communications available to your members.
- Caregivers: Many people are caring for their parents who have complex needs and are very vulnerable during this unprecedented time. Providing guidance on what they should do and how to monitor those in their care will help eliminate uncertainty and ensure both themselves and their loved ones remain safe and healthy.
Above All Else, Choose the Right Tone
Over the last several weeks, health plans have been wondering who, what, how, and how often in relation to their marketing and communications activities. Above all else, keep in mind the sensitivity of this conversation. Be clear, simple, and genuine. Do not condescend or demand. The right tone should be empathetic, understanding, and helpful, so that members feel less uncertain, confused, and scared.
If you still have questions on how to communicate with members and providers, consider attending our upcoming virtual open forum on Thursday, March 26th, where the healthcare experts at GHG and analytics leaders at Pareto Intelligence will answer all of your specific questions across a variety of topics, including Marketing, Star Ratings, Risk Adjustment, Compliance, Network Adequacy and Development, Telehealth and Analytics.