The 2003 Medicare Modernization Act provided for private insurers to offer more benefits to seniors, including prescription drug coverage that went into effect in January.
Officials with Humana, a 44-year-old health benefits company based in Louisville, KY, wanted to get a foothold in the emerging market in hopes of being the top private health insurer handling prescription drug plans.
Humana has offered Medicare replacement insurance to seniors for the past 20 years, but only in a few states. With the drug plan, Humana hoped to move into as many as 46 states with an initial onslaught into 21 states. But Humana's prescription drug plan was so inexpensive - as little as $1.87 per month - that stockholders feared the company would end up losing money.
Humana tapped longtime agency partner Porter Novelli to help draft an awareness campaign to get the word out to seniors that Humana would expand its prescription drug business beginning January 1. The goal was to educate seniors about the new mandate and then drive them toward Humana's drug plan.
Another goal was to inform a nervous Wall Street that Humana's expansion was good for the company's bottom line. Humana also had to show that its enrollment goals were not too optimistic. Humana officials knew that seniors want low cost plans and that they remain loyal to an insurer if the service and costs are good. The goal was to show that Humana could meet those needs.
Porter Novelli and Humana decided to use some of Humana's partnerships and marketing programs to get the word out to seniors. And they went to medical reporters at the nation's top news media outlets to educate them about the drug benefit and arranged one-on-one interviews with Humana officials billed as experts to explain details of the new Medicare policy.
"We talked with reporters at The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, The Washington Post, AP, and other top papers," says Dick Brown, head of PR for Humana.
On Humana's Web site, the company posted its low-price drug plan and directed seniors to the Medicare Web site for more information. The PR team then launched the "Let's Talk" RV tour, in which a fleet of Humana recreational vehicles hit Wal-Mart stores to educate seniors about the program. Kiosks were also set up in Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores with information. Agents were on hand to answer questions and to sign up seniors.
The media tour generated coverage in national publications. Washington, DC-based Wall Street Journal reporter Sarah Lueck wrote a story about Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt helping his parents sign up for the drug plan - their choice was Humana.
Of the 1 million new subscribers Humana signed up, 40%came through the Web site. And to quiet nervous Wall Street investors, on December 22, the PR team released a statement indicating that Humana - in the first month of signups - had exceeded its enrollment expectations for the entire 2006 calendar year. That helped boost the stock price more than 10% that day - exceeding the 52-week high.
The "Let's Talk" tour continues, rolling out to more states across the nation. Humana officials say they have learned the benefits of coupling education and information campaigns with other marketing programs used by the company. Humana expects enrollment to continue to grow.
Getting ahead of the curve and partnering with other marketing programs proved to be an valuable strategy that elevated Humana in the healthcare market.
The education-based efforts and RV tours, as well as the ensuing word of mouth, helped the company boost awareness in markets where it previously had a marginal presence.
Humana was also savvy enough to recognize it could gain more positive media exposure by announcing it was on track to exceed enrollment projections for all of 2006 after only one month, a departure from its normal policy of only releasing numbers quarterly.
PR team: Humana (Louisville, KY) and Porter Novelli (New York)
Campaign: Humana's Medicare Awareness
Duration: July to December 2005