For some insurers, television ads have taken center stage.
WHEN MEDICARE beneficiaries hear the familiar voices of Ethel and Fred Mertz of "I Love Lucy" fame streaming from the television, it has to bring back memories. But the voices are also marketing PacifiCare's prescription drug plan (PDP), offered nationally as Prescription Solutions from PacifiCare. The health plan is one of 10 chosen by The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) to provide a standalone national PDP.
The competition is stiff among the 10 national providers, backed up by at least 11 regional offerings in each state-not to mention the Medicare Advantage (MA) plans with pharmacy coverage. That represents a lot of choices for the 42 million people in the United States eligible for Medicare drug benefits.
Although Congress developed a set of standard provisions, most insurers have designed a variety of enhanced options-eliminating the deductible, providing extra coverage for generics and using copayments instead of coinsurance. The basics include:
According to CMS, PDPs face only a few restrictions on marketing: no soliciting door-to-door or through e-mail, no contacting anyone by phone who is on a "do-not-call" list and no using actors posing as Medicare beneficiaries to sell plans.
Insurers have an opportunity to not only sell customers on their offerings, but to help unravel the mystery surrounding the new Part D benefit. A USA Today/CNN/Gallup survey conducted in early October shows that more than 50% of Medicare beneficiaries do not understand the new prescription drug benefit and do not intend to enroll in the program. The results are similar to those from earlier surveys.
Medicare did its part by mailing 41 million handbooks in October, describing the benefit and how to enroll. Unfortunately, an error was caught after the mailing. The brochure wrongly stated that low-income seniors, an estimated 14 million people who earn less than $14,355 a year for individuals or less than $19,245 for couples, could sign up for any of the PDPs that offer plans in their area at no extra charge. It should have stated that these seniors can avoid extra charges only if they sign up with plans that charge premiums that are equal to or below the state average. The right information, CMS said, can be found on the Medicare Web site.
Following on the heels of Medicare's efforts, individual plans have been on a fast track. WellPoint is marketing its PDPs and MAs through its different brands around the country. UniCare, an operating affiliate of WellPoint, was chosen by CMS to provide coverage nationally.
WellPoint is marketing its PDPs and MAs through its different brands around the country. UniCare, an operating affiliate of WellPoint, was chosen by CMS to provide coverage nationally.
"We are speaking with existing customers to retain their business and reassuring them that there is no need to rush," says Susan Rawlings, president of senior services for WellPoint. "We are offering some high-quality products, which will provide both affordability and choice."