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Improving the Medicare Customer Journey

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What You Need to Know

  • About 80% of adults ages 55 and older are online.
  • Seniors own an average of five internet-connected devices.
  • Their use of telehealth services is booming.

We’ve heard this mantra before: Meeting the needs of your customers requires a keen understanding of who they are, what their challenges are and how they prefer to engage with you. In laymen’s terms, you need to understand your customer base. And it’s no different in the Medicare space, which primarily serves the health care needs of America’s aging population (65+).

The senior population has grown drastically over the years: The number of Americans that are ages 65+ is projected to almost double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060, according to research from Population Research Bureau. Engaging and servicing this important segment of the population is ripe with opportunity.

So, what exactly are today’s seniors like? What are their health care barriers, and how can those of us in the Medicare space meet their changing needs? Let’s take a look at some of the ways in which this demographic has changed and evolved over the last few years, and how to best serve them in an ever-changing health care market.

1. Understand the Medicare customer.

The National Council on Aging finds that 75% of seniors have at least one chronic health condition, and most have two or more. But that hasn’t held them back from living long, fulfilling lives. In fact, the National Center for Health Statistics says that the average life expectancy is 78 years, and those who reach age 80 live another eight to 10 years on average. Furthermore, 25% of 65-year-olds today will live past the age of 90.

Harvard research has also found that seniors are working later into life, meaning they are staying employed even past the traditional retirement age of 65. And, older adults today are more active than their predecessors. The American Psychological Association says that older adults today stay engaged and productive, with many engaging in volunteer work and acting as caregivers. And while age does bring with it some challenges in both physical and mental health, approximately two-thirds of older adults who do not live in a long-term care setting say that their health is good, very good or excellent.

As the world becomes more and more digital, so has America’s senior population. Google reports that about 80% of Americans 55 and over are online, and the majority of seniors spend at least six hours a day online, and own about five Internet-connected devices on average.

2. Meet customers where they are.

There are so many unique needs within the Medicare population. In order to understand those needs, you have a unique advantage being on the frontlines of customer interactions and can hear from customers first-hand. Take advantage of your position to better understand their struggles, and craft experiences and benefits to help remove barriers to care.

COVID-19 has pushed the insurance industry to think outside of the box in terms of how we can improve access to care for seniors. For instance, many seniors haven’t had the means or were fearful to travel to see their doctor for routine visits. A Medicare Advantage plan with a telehealth solution is one way we

can meet seniors where they are.

MDLIVE, for example, is an inexpensive alternative to the emergency room or urgent care center. Providers are available after hours, nights, weekends and even holidays. It’s easy to use and helps ensure that seniors get that care that they need. And it’s working: Cigna’s data shows that virtual behavioral health care adoption, for example, has skyrocketed across all age demographics. For adults ages 50-69 adoption was up 5,000%. For those 70+, adoption of telehealth throughout the pandemic was up 7,200%.

3. Address social determinants of health.

Social determinants of health (SDOH) are the economic and social conditions that influence individual and population differences in health status. Forty percent of a person’s health depends on their social and economic status.

When we think about how to design benefits for seniors, we need to take into account their barriers to care. For example, for those seniors who are food insecure, how do we get them the food that they need to stay healthy? And when it comes to older adults who haven’t been able to socialize much with family and friends during the pandemic, how do we ensure their mental health doesn’t suffer from loneliness? All of these things impact people’s health, and that’s why it’s really important to start thinking about health more holistically.

During the pandemic, a lot of the health disparities that already existed became an even bigger impact to senior health. At Cigna, we began to provide additional food benefits to help those seniors who are food insecure, or don’t have transportation options to get to the grocery store. Additionally, when the vaccines came out, we added transportation for vaccine appointments that has been really well received.

Take stock of your customers’ demographics and be sure to pair them with health plans that address any social determinants of health.

Keep a Finger on the Pulse of the Ever Changing Landscape

These changes mean the sky is the limit for meeting the needs of the senior population. We can do so much more now in terms of creating benefits for people who face financial challenges, who are food insecure, have difficulty with transportation, or are facing difficulties with social isolation. It has allowed us to hone in on how to target benefits and resources to the most vulnerable senior populations.

Keep thinking about health and well-being in terms of the entire customer journey and customer experience — from enrollment, to customer service, treatment, and more.

Stay keen on understanding cultural norms in communities as they relate to health care, because we need to speak to people in a way that resonates with them. This strategy plays into the resources we provide, the services we put out, as well as the plans we recommend. Knowing and understanding our customers should become part of your DNA.

Christine Leo (Photo: Cigna)Christine Leo is vice president of senior products at Cigna.