Health Plans, Strategy, Experience

Tailoring Messages for Diverse Medicare Markets

MERGE offers perspective on the messaging approach for organizations marketing SNPs and D-SNP Medicare Advantage plans

BY: Jim Porter | EVP, Managing Director Healthcare Practice

PUBLISHED: 12/15/2023

Marketing Medicare products, particularly Special Needs Plans (SNPs) and Dual Special Needs Plans (D-SNPs), to lower-income individuals over the age of 65, requires a deep understanding of the target demographic's unique needs and circumstances. Despite the availability of integrated Medicare and Medicaid coverage arrangements in most states, it's estimated that fewer than one million dual-eligible individuals are enrolled in either a fully integrated D-SNP or Medicare-Medicaid Plan. This presents a significant challenge to marketers, as there is a large pool of eligible candidates for D-SNP that remains largely untapped.

Existing D-SNP programs face numerous issues, including fragmented care, poorer health outcomes for dual-eligible individuals, higher health spending, and incentives for healthcare providers and states to shift costs to the Medicare program. Navigating these complexities necessitates a nuanced grasp of both Medicaid and Medicare – a niche expertise offered by MERGE. Moreover, given that the target demographic often grapples with significant health and societal challenges, health equity considerations can also play a crucial role in marketing to this sector. In this article, we share insights on the messaging approach for organizations marketing SNPs and D-SNP Medicare Advantage plans, the need to cater to multicultural audiences, and the importance of finding efficiencies while still managing the right focus and specialization in the outreach to these different target audiences.

Delivering Effective Messaging for Medicare SNPs

Crafting a messaging strategy for marketing SNPs or D-SNPs requires a unique approach. Typically, consumers of these products are primarily driven by the supplemental benefits they are entitled to. Therefore, the goal in messaging must be simple and direct.

It’s important to keep in mind that this audience often grapples with complex medical conditions, making access to specialists crucial. Dual eligibles typically live with complicated physical, behavioral, and/or social issues and are often among the most chronically ill. These individuals typically require assistance beyond the doctor’s office, such as housing, transportation, and food security. Moreover, they may have had disappointing previous experiences with health insurance brands due to unclear or misunderstood health plan benefits. This group is especially distrustful due to being frequent targets of predatory marketing, making them highly skeptical. Messaging should reflect these sensitivities.

The target audience for Special Needs Plans are distinct from the Medicare Advantage (MA) target. They encompass a broader age range due to disability or medical eligibility and are less likely to shop compared to MA, though those who do have been known to convert at a higher rate. This group, more often than not, also requires more guidance and prefers human connections over online experiences – community leaders and peers can be highly influential in these instances.

The role of agents or brokers in this scenario is also broader. Agents often serve as an access point for other services needed by dual eligibles, including deciphering communications from Social Security. The most successful D-SNP agents tend to be where the audience is, such as doctor offices, pharmacies, local events, and churches, and they often serve as clearinghouses for other services needed by dual eligible clients, largely due to the difficulty in understanding government communication and lower literacy rates. To further assist with delivering the message, organizations must understand what drives D-SNP agents, which often boils down to administrative simplicity and opportunities for financial success. Health plans must provide the training and support tools to make the broker feel confident and in command of the plan options they are marketing, while at the same time, it should offer strong, achievable compensation in terms of commission and prizes or awards.

Navigating Cultural Nuances

Understanding cultural differences with a target audience is paramount to the success of any marketing strategy, but particularly when marketing Medicare products. The prioritization of messaging and the call to action can vary significantly across cultures, thus tailoring communications to resonate with each unique audience is key to enhancing the effectiveness of the marketing campaign.

Focusing on standout supplemental benefits and services offered by SNPs and D-SNPs, such as Care Coordinators, can be compelling selling points. These services provide added value beyond standard healthcare coverages, offering much-needed support for individuals grappling with complex medical conditions. However, it remains critical that all communications about these benefits are clear, simple, and informative rather than promotional. The goal should be to educate potential beneficiaries about the advantages of the plan, providing them with the necessary knowledge to make an informed decision.

Additionally, defining and validating the product's value through testimonials from local influencers, such as care managers and community leaders, can significantly boost credibility and trust in the product. These testimonials serve as social proof of the product's benefits, lending more weight to the marketing message. This approach can be particularly effective in multicultural communities, where word-of-mouth recommendations from trusted community figures can significantly influence decision-making processes.

Customizing the Message

When considering the messaging approach, it is essential to recognize that each market is unique. Factors such as the growing penetration of MA, attitudes towards Medicaid offerings, and the prevalence of Medicare Supplement memberships can vary widely from market to market. As such, strategies must be designed around the consumer in each specific market, taking into account the dynamics of the market, the strengths of the particular brand, and the competitive landscape.

These elements significantly influence the go-to-market strategy, key messages, how the brand value is leveraged, and the allocation of investment between channels. For instance, the need for brand awareness and education, the level of multicultural marketing and which cultures to target, and the requirement for the brand to maintain a community presence can all differ greatly between markets.

It’s also important to consider what an online experience looks like. Today's audiences are increasingly dependent on mobile devices, particularly cell phones. So, developing an online experience that builds trust with these audiences is vital. This involves creating user-friendly interfaces, providing clear and concise information, and ensuring secure and private transactions.

Additionally, successfully engaging diverse demographics across multiple media channels requires a deep understanding of how they consume media and navigate their purchasing paths. When aiming to create awareness, leveraging wide-reaching platforms such as television or out-of-home advertising becomes crucial in establishing a brand's reputation, potentially well before consumers require our client's products or services. As individuals progress towards the consideration and evaluation stages, employing more focused digital channels like search engines and social media becomes essential to engage with active shoppers. The core strategy should revolve around delivering tailored messages to the specific audience, utilizing the right channels precisely at the most opportune moments.


*Michelle Boudreau, MERGE SVP and Group Client Service Leader, and Cindy Thompson, MERGE SVP and Group Media Leader, also contributed to this article.

Looking for guidance in navigating the complex world of marketing Medicare and Medicaid products to diverse audiences? Connect with MERGE and our team of experienced and dedicated experts to help show you the way.