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AEP preparation advice from IMO execs: Part I

Brian Anderson

Are you ready yet?

The start of Medicare’s Annual Election Period (AEP) – Oct. 15-Dec. 7 – is just over a month away, meaning agent preparations are well underway to make sure they will hit the ground running and processes will run smoothly so as to not lose valuable time dealing with any variety of non-selling activities such as:

• Getting certified/contracted with all needed carriers and plans

• Familiarity with new plans entering the market

• Adhering to CMS compliance and marketing guidelines

• Making sure all necessary supplies are on hand

It’s a stressful, pressure-packed time of year for agents in the senior market who can’t afford mistakes that force them to take finite time away from selling to deal with issues, or not having a solid strategy in place to ensure their time is being spent efficiently.

This being the case, Insurance Forums asked top executives from some of the leading IMOs/FMOs in the senior market to share some of their insight and advice about key topics to be aware of and how agents be as prepared as possible in advance of AEP.

We want to give a special thanks to Craig Ritter of Ritter Insurance Marketing, Josh Vandenberg of Precision Senior Marketing, JoAnn Wray of Senior Marketing Specialists and Ryan Kimble of Agent Pipeline, Inc., for taking the time to provide their unique perspective (please see bios for all four execs at the end of this article). Here in Part I we share their responses about opportunities, potential obstacles and advice for dealing with the stress that goes along with AEP planning and execution. In Part II on Thursday, they’ll cover the value of hired help, specific ways they are helping their agents prepare for the coming rush, and what would constitute a successful AEP when Dec. 8 rolls around.

Biggest AEP opportunities and concerns

Question #1: As October 15 approaches, what are some of the biggest opportunities and/or concerns agents should have about this year’s AEP?

Josh Vandenberg: Medicare’s Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) provides an excellent opportunity for agents due to the heightened marketing and consumer awareness. Even if Medicare is not your primary focus, there is no better door-opener to other sales than using Medicare as your lead in. One of the major things agents need to worry about is making sure you have a good portfolio of ancillary products (Hospital Indemnity, Life, Annuity, Dental, etc.). Due to recent CMS changes, any Medicare Advantage business you write during AEP will not pay you until January so our agents have found it imperative to cross-sell other products in order to cover their expenses during this timeframe.

Craig Ritter: I emphasize contracting and certifying early to make sure that agents have supplies in hand by the start of AEP. I also encourage agents to “map out” their AEP strategy around this time, since they probably should have a pretty good idea of Medicare Advantage plan designs for 2017. There may be some plan disruptions that require agents to replace business that is exiting. There may be significant changes in premiums or benefits to address with clients. Having a plan to address existing clients’ concerns from October 1st through October 14th will free up more time to go after new business. Having a solid plan is critical since the AEP can become overwhelming for agents.

JoAnn Wray: Some of the biggest opportunities this year are in the expansion of Medicare Advantage plans as they increase their footprint into neighboring counties in several of our key markets. Being an election year, many beneficiaries have healthcare at the forefront of their minds. We feel that all signs are pointing toward a very successful AEP due to this increased mindfulness, the high volume of attendees at product roll-out meetings, new agents getting contracted, and certification being up over 25% of what is was this time last year. Pre-ordering of supplies is also up over last year, even with the increase of E-app processes that every carrier is getting better at and making much more streamlined for the agent and the client.

Ryan Kimble

Ryan Kimble: • Opportunities – There are major carrier expansions in the Medicare Advantage space that will cause positive market disruption. Strength and stability will also play a huge role in the plans agents sell. In addition to Medicare Advantage, there are many new Medicare Supplement plans that have entered the market within the last 90 days. This continues to offer Medicare beneficiaries lower-priced options in the market.

• Concerns – Completing certifications early, getting supplies ordered and ensuring they are received so that agents are ready to go by October 1 are always concerns. Determining their marketing plan and how they are going to find prospects and reach their target market.

• Thoughts on the advice here, or have your own comments about preparing for AEP? Please share on this new thread: AEP prep advice from IMO leaders

“Under the radar” stumbling blocks and opportunities

Question #2: Realizing agents working in this market will at this point already be aware of any significant changes this year, are there any “under the radar” potential stumbling blocks or opportunities to be aware of?

Ryan Kimble: • Stumbling Blocks – Familiarizing themselves with new carriers’ enrollment processes, being comfortable with new products that are available in their market, remaining compliant when marketing and triple-checking their state licenses, appointments and certifications before selling. There have been too many great agents terminated for selling in states the agent thought they were still licensed in but weren’t.

• Opportunities – “Member Experience” is now one of the biggest drivers of why Medicare beneficiaries keep and/or change their MAPD or PDP plans. As agents learn which companies do a fantastic job with the member’s overall experience, agents will be able enroll new members with these companies. This ultimately gives agents a more stable book of business year-over-year.

JoAnn Wray

JoAnn Wray: Agents need to remember that those 7 weeks of AEP are the time to take care of the whole client, not just compare their Medicare Advantage plans. It’s also the time of the highest volume of Medicare Supplement sales, stand-alone PDP sales, and ancillary products that fill the gaps (Hospital Indemnity, Critical Illness, DVH, Cancer plans, etc.). Having a system that encompasses all of those fact-finding questions is essential to a having a successful AEP. Additionally, it is important for agents to schedule follow-up meetings with clients to set the stage for a fast and profitable start to 2017.

Craig Ritter: I would characterize this year as fairly “quiet,” meaning not a lot of big changes to plan premiums and benefits. Clearly, local markets can vary widely, so it’s important for agents to understand what changes are in store for existing members. Seeing modest changes is great for agents with existing books of business (low maintenance), but more challenging for newer agents trying to find consumers with a desire to switch plans. One big change I think agents will notice is a tightening of the Scope of Appointment language to include presentations that are done over the telephone. Historically, only “face-to-face” meetings required a Scope of Appointment form to be signed 48 hours in advance. CMS emphasized that they see no difference between one-on-one appointments over the phone or in person.

Josh Vandenberg: One of the nice changes this year is the increase in agent compensation that CMS approved. In a price-driven, commoditized market we’re used to seeing commission reductions in order to offset costs so it’s always nice to see the agents getting a raise for a change!

• Thoughts on the advice here, or have your own comments about preparing for AEP? Please share on this new thread: AEP prep advice from IMO leaders

Advice for “stressed out” agents

Question #3: In a recent poll question on Insurance Forums, we asked agents what issue weighs most on their minds with AEP approaching. While the #1 response was “no worries – let’s get started already” (23%), the next most popular response (21%) was “All of the above – as in “stress of upcoming long, hectic days” (14%); “will systems/processes run smoothly?” (11%); “adhering to CMS guidelines” (11%); “getting certified/contracted” (9%); and “lag time in commissions being paid” (7%). What advice do you have for agents stressed out about what lies ahead?

Craig Ritter: September is the month to be thinking through your AEP activities. First, get a good understanding of the changes in your local markets. Try to project which plans will be “in demand” this AEP. Second, look at your book of business (this is where a good CRM or tracking database is helpful) to figure out which clients will need attention first. Third, contract and recertify early so you have sales materials as soon as possible. Finally, utilize what I call “pre-AEP” (October 1st through October 14th) to handle your difficult clients and the clients you feel are most in need of considering a change. It’s very difficult to prospect for new business during the pre-AEP, but it’s a great time to address existing clients’ issues and set them at ease. Taking advantage of these 2 weeks is key to lowering stress levels!

Josh Vandenberg

Josh Vandenberg: Preparation and organization are key to a smooth AEP. If there was ever a period of time where you want to be particularly focused and organized, it’s during AEP. Keep in mind, oversights will be made by both the agent and the carrier. You have to take these in stride and not let them affect your attitude. At the end of the enrollment period, make sure you document any lessons learned (good or bad) and incorporate them into your processes to ensure better future experiences.Ryan Kimble: “If it were easy, everyone would do it.” I’m not sure where that quote comes from, but I use it weekly in our business. The AEP is hard, but the fact that it is not “easy” ultimately helps not only good agents but also members by keeping out the “fly by night” crowd.The best piece of advice I can give an agent is to make sure they have a good partner to help them through all of the pitfalls the AEP could potentially bring. A strong FMO partner can remove the clutter and bridge the gaps during the ramp-up period leading up to the AEP.

JoAnn Wray: We teach our agents to make sure they have a system that takes them from pre-AEP preparation, to lead generation, to customer retention, to business processing and staff trainings. Heading into the busiest time of our industry without a daily plan of action will only leave the agent frustrated. While it might be “busy” – an AEP without a well thought-out and efficient plan of action is just going to create chaos without creating any real results.

Coming up in Part II on Thursday:

• How to “work smarter” this AEP

• Specific ways these IMOs are helping their agents prepare for AEP

• What has to go right for a successful AEP

About the panelists:

Ryan Kimble is the President of St. Albans, W.V.-based Agent Pipeline, Inc., a leading national marketing organization dedicated to delivering the most competitive products and outstanding support to independent agents. Ryan began his career in the insurance business at Agent Pipeline (formerly Integrated Benefits, Inc., founded in 1988) following his graduation from Liberty College, earning a BS degree in Business Finance. Ryan introduced the company to Medicare products and began the company’s national expansion in 2001. Agent Pipeline now represents over 100 companies with a focus on Medicare, Individual and Group ACA Health, Telesales, Supplemental and Life Insurance products. For more information call 800-962-4693 or email [email protected].

Craig Ritter is the President and Owner of Harrisburg, Pa.-based Ritter Insurance Marketing, an Independent Marketing Organization specializing in senior life and health insurance products such as Medicare Supplement, Medicare Advantage, Medicare Prescription Drug Plans, Long Term Care and Final Expense insurance. His popular Medicare blog, which started in 2008, is widely read by agents and insurance industry insiders. Under Craig’s leadership, Ritter has grown from a small business with six employees to a company with 140 full-time employees and offices in Harrisburg, Atlanta, Syracuse, Philadelphia, and Omaha, plus more locations in the works.Josh Vandenberg is a Managing Partner for Precision Senior Marketing. He has been in the insurance industry since 1999 and started the company in 2006 along with his brother, Lucas Vandenberg. Located in Austin, Texas, Precision Senior Marketing is national marketing organization focused primarily on the rapidly growing senior market. Their specialties include Medicare Advantage, Medicare Supplements, Final Expense. Josh can be reached at (800) 998-7715 or email [email protected].

JoAnn Wray, President of Senior Marketing Specialists, has watched the company go from a small career agency in Mid-Missouri to one of the largest and most nationally recognized FMOs across the country. The company has specialized in only one thing through the years – Medicare and all products that are associated with Medicare (Medicare Supplement, MedicareAdvantage, Final Expense, Recovery Care, Short-Term Care, Long-Term Care, and Home Health Care). The Medicare market has definitely changed over the years, but the company’s devotion to agents and the need for the products has not changed at all.

• Thoughts on the advice here, or have your own comments about preparing for AEP? Please share on this new thread: AEP prep advice from IMO leaders



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