Health insurers begin PR push for Medicare drug plans

NEW YORK: Health insurance companies that have received Medicare approval to offer prescription drug benefits to seniors and the disabled can begin marketing their plans next week.

NEW YORK: Health insurance companies that have received Medicare approval to offer prescription drug benefits to seniors and the disabled can begin marketing their plans next week.

The outreach effort ? one of the largest and most expensive joint initiatives undertaken by the public and private sectors ? will involve educating beneficiaries about the changes to the Medicare program and how they can take advantage of them.

The drug benefit will now be offered by private insurers, which represents the most dramatic change under the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act. Seniors and the disabled will have the option of choosing between at least two plans in their region.

As health insurers seek to enroll beneficiaries, credibility will be a large hurdle.

Ben Singer, FischerHealth SVP national practice leader for health services, noted that building a trustworthy image is particularly important for insurance companies that offered Medicare HMO plans a decade ago, but left the market after the government cut reimbursement.

"Seniors are very discerning shoppers," he said. "They really need every bit of confidence."

FischerHealth client Humana is working on an education-focused campaign.

Humana sent its in-house Medicare expert, Dr. Scott Latimer, on a media tour that resulted in coverage in the general and business press. "They just keep coming back because they know he's a credible source," said Julie Johnson, VP at FischerHealth.

It also dispatched 10 RVs nationwide as part of a "Let's Talk" campaign.

"The confusion factor is the big thing," said Dick Brown, Humana's senior director of communications, who noted that seniors would soon be inundated with marketing material. "We felt that education is really going to be key to this initiative."

Wendy Kuran, PacifiCare's VP of marketing and business development, noted that the company is similarly trying to position itself as a go-to source.

It has set up a website, www.PartDandMe.com, which explains the changes to the Medicare program.

"The more subtle message is PacifiCare is going to be a player in this and we're a great source of information," Kuran said. "We're trying to reach many audiences, definitely seniors and all the people who influence them."

The company is working with GolinHarris on some elements of the integrated campaign, and is also partnering with senior organizations.

The prescription drug benefit goes into effect January 1.


 

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