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Flu, Walmart May Energize Medicare Plan Sales

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Medicare plan programs have been working too well to get much media attention this summer.

COVID-19 has been hanging over the entire economy.

Low interest rates have been turning life insurers’ life and annuity operations upside down.

But insurers’ Medicare Advantage plans, Medicare Part D drug plans, and Medicare supplement insurance policies have been selling well and earning profits, and the annual enrollment period for 2020 is set to start Oct. 15.

CVS Health may attract consumers’ attentions to its Medicare plans by bringing them into its drugstores for flu shots.

All Medicare plan sellers may get a boost from a distribution giant: Walmart.

Flu shots and Walmart came up this week, in conference calls that CVS Health and Humana used to go over their latest results with securities analysts.

(Related: Lincoln Pivots Toward Variable Annuity Sales: Earnings)

Larry Merlo, the chief executive officer at CVS Health, predicted Wednesday, during the CVS Health analyst call, that consumer interest in flu shots will be very strong.

“We expect to administer up to 18 million seasonal flu vaccines this fall, which is more than what we have administered in the last few years,” Merlo said. “We think that, for obvious reasons, there’s going to be an increase in demand.”

One reason interest will be so high is that the symptoms of influenza often mimic the symptoms of early or mild cases of COVID-19, Merlo said.

Controlling season flu is critical this year, because distinguishing people who have COVID-19 and people who have ordinary flu will be critical, Merlo said.

Offering vaccinations and other preventive services is a good way to get people into the drug stores, get people attached to the drug stores, and expose people to everything else the stores offer, Merlo said.

About 40% of the people who get COVID-19 tests at CVS pharmacies haven’t been CVS pharmacy customers before, Merlo said.

When Humana held its analyst call, an analyst asked about the Walmart effect.

Bruce Broussard, Humana’s chief executive officer, said Walmart has talked about being a Medicare Advantage plan distributor, not an issuer.

“They have been in that business for a long period of time,” Broussard said.”We have traditionally had a relationship with them. At one time, we actually managed their sales force… So, we don’t see it as much of a change.”

Walmart’s approach should help get people into Walmart stores, Broussard said.

If Walmart advertises the Medicare Advantage plan program heavily, its ads could help increase consumers’ overall level of interest in Medicare plans.

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