• What to Know to Market at AEP

    While AEP is the source of most of an agent’s Medicare Advantage business for the year, it’s also the time of year when every agent is working, including the ones you might not be competing against during lock-in. This means it’s that much more important for you to make the most of the marketing opportunities you have available.

    Brand Yourself

    Insurance is, more than anything, a relationship business. Think about what sets you apart from an agent down the street who could offer a client the same products. Have you been involved in the community for a long time? Do you have a deep knowledge of a particular set of products? Do you offer a wide variety of products to provide a one stop shop for clients? Once you figure this out, incorporate it into your advertising, office signage, business cards, and your introduction to potential clients and colleagues.

    Generate Leads

    If you’re still building your book of business, simply buying leads from a direct mail or online lead company is a great way to get started. Direct mail leads are generally the least expensive, but have a lower response rate, whereas online leads are more expensive but are more likely to lead to a sale. In many cases you can narrow down the demographics to particular zip codes, ages, and income levels to help you focus on exactly the prospects you want.

    If you already have an established book of business, whether from Medicare or other products, AEP is a perfect time to get in touch with them. By sending your clients a letter or even giving them a personal call to let them know that you’re available and can help them with their Medicare plan needs, you can help your retention with any existing Medicare plan business, as well as generate referrals from your clients’ family and friends. Remember that you should also be planning a review with your existing Medicare Advantage clients during AEP, since their plan availability and benefits can change every year.

    Another option for generating new business is to hold sales events in your community. These are public events where you invite prospects to either come to a presentation on Medicare and the benefits of a particular plan or plans, or to drop by a table or kiosk during a particular time to ask questions or get information. These events need to be filed with CMS through carriers with which you’re contracted, and you must follow the CMS guidelines for registering, advertising, and conducting these events. Each carrier’s requirements for conducting sales events can vary, so it’s important that you’re familiar with the process for each carrier with which you work. You can view our guide to deadlines and other info about registration here. If you have any questions about sales events, feel free to email our team at

    Leverage Your Community

    Are you involved in your local Chamber of Commerce, small business association, Lion’s Club, or other community group? Those groups and relationships are a prime opportunity for you to reach out and market yourself as an available resource. That kind of visibility and good will can be a great way to generate referrals as well as making your other marketing that much more effective. People are more likely to want to do business with someone who is seen as a trustworthy and active member of their community than someone with whom they’re not familiar.

    AEP will be here before you know it, so get out there and sell!

  • Get to Know Your Carriers

    We want you to take a moment and answer a couple questions. (We promise these are easy.)
    1. How many carriers are you appointed with?
    2. How many of their websites have you been to?

    The reason we ask is there is a whole network of information on those carrier websites.
    • Detailed information about their products
    • Live chat
    • Direct phone numbers for Agents Only
    • Material ordering (that sometimes goes straight to your house)
    • Promo ordering
    • Insurance Resources
    • Contact forms
    • Specials/prizes/events

    With AEP right around the corner we think it would be a great time for you to familiarize yourself with the companies that you are appointed with. By doing so, you have all the knowledge you need to give potential clients.

    Need some help finding your carrier website? Type the carrier name in the search bar of your preferred internet search engine and the carrier you are looking for should pop up on the top of your search.

    With that being said, we have another great reference for you to use:

    That’s right. Agent Pit Stop. Did you know that on our webpage you can:
    Click on the CLIENTS tab to see all your clients, plus you can see all upcoming birthdays. Making it easy for you to give them a phone call, send a card, or let them know of plans that may be more suitable to their health needs.

    Under the CONTRACTS tab you can see which documents we have on file and when they are expiring, plus you can request contracting information for carriers you may not be appointed with.

    The RATES tab has a search engine for you to use to better prepare you for your appointments. It helps your clients know the most updated rates that are available.

    The BILLING tab will show any balances you have with Van Berg.

    The COMMISSION STATEMENTS tab will show you exactly that. What date you were paid, the company/companies, and a file to download of the statement for that date.

    The SECURE EMAIL tab is for those who would like to sign up or log in to their secure email page.

    Last, but not least, the BLOG tab. Keep up to date with information about carriers, helpful tips, changes in insurance, and other information that may be pertain to the business.

    As always, if you cannot find what you are looking for here and still need additional help, we have several people in the office to help point you in the right direction. Please do not hesitate to call us at (800) 723-5228.

  • The Impact of the Election Year on Medicare Marketing

    The results of the upcoming Presidential election could bring about a host of changes, but even before that, the election year itself can mean new marketing challenges for agents during AEP. So what should you be prepared for?

    Fear of changes – Because Medicare is a major campaign issue, seniors are likely to be more concerned about potential changes and less certain about their options for 2017. With the promise of a new administration reforming Medicare, clients may be worried about making a decision, only to have things change.

    Congested advertising space – Remember that the election is smack in the middle of AEP! In the final lead up to the election, people will be inundated with campaign related direct mail pieces, television commercials, and print ads, making it harder for yours to be seen.

    Limited advertising available – Due to the volume of political ads being scheduled in the lead up to the election, television networks will almost certainly run out of available advertising space, and print publications may as well. Both will likely charge a premium, particularly on the specific networks and publications that best reach seniors.

    So, how do you combat this?

    Be prepared to reassure clients – Clients may be more cautious with their choices or less sure about their options because of potential changes to the Medicare program. Have some talking points in mind to remind them that any changes as a result of a new Presidential administration will take time and they should make the best choice they can based on where things stand now.

    Plan for advertising early – Get in touch with your contacts at television providers, newspapers, and direct mail houses earlier than you think is necessary to make sure you can get your advertising out when you need to. There’s likely to be longer turn around time in addition to less availability, so getting in early will be key.

    Be as creative as possible – There will be so much advertising, it will be more important than ever to find ways to stand out from the crowd. People are going to have red, white, and blue postcards by the dozens in their mailboxes and wall to wall ads in their newspapers and magazines, so start thinking now about how to make yours stand out.

    While planning marketing for AEP is always a significant undertaking, remember that this year will bring with it unique challenges. Plan ahead and save yourself some headaches!

  • No Need to Fear Secret Shoppers

    Time and again we hear it from agents considering doing sales meetings or other community events — “But what if a secret shopper comes?” While the concern is completely understandable given the potential ramifications of a CMS complaint, it’s also probably based more in fear than in reality.

    Secret shoppers don’t find anything wrong the vast majority of the time – In 2014, 85.5% of the events that were secret shopped by CMS were found to be totally compliant. 85.5%! Do you have faith that you’re better than the bottom 14.5% of agents out there? We bet you do. If more than 85% of events can be pulled off with no compliance issues, so can yours.

    They really don’t try to trap you – Secret shoppers may ask you a lot of questions, and they may be specifically asking questions related to areas of concern for CMS, but they won’t go out of their way to ask you the most obscure question possible and trick you into giving the wrong answer. Answer questions compliantly and be honest if you’re not sure of something.

    There are example checklists you can look at – Every CMS secret shopper fills out the same survey and is looking for the same things. While CMS doesn’t make the most current one available to the public, you can click here to look at a sample from a prior year. If you know what they’re looking for, you know what you have to do.

    Most deficiencies found were for easily avoidable infractions – In 2014, CMS secret shoppers found 305 deficiencies at the events they surveyed. Sixty-nine were for failing to provide and go over star ratings, and 67 were for failing to make available required information like the Summary of Benefits or provider directory when providing an enrollment form. These are easily prevented by making sure you have the necessary materials and that you go over the information required.

    If you take a little time and some care, you can put together an informative, compliant event to help grow your business, without fear of a secret shopper lurking around every corner.

  • Be Better Prepared for Client Meetings and Get More Sales

    Most agents would agree that getting the appointment is the hardest part of making a sale, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways to improve the likelihood of getting business out of every client meeting.

    Talk to clients in advance so they can have their information ready – You can’t always assume that a client is going to have all the necessary information immediately at hand. By talking to them in advance about what you’ll need to know, you give them a chance to track down necessary papers or make phone calls to get everything prepared. Items to remind clients of in advance include Medicare ID and Part A and B effective dates, names and contact info of their doctors, existing policy info including premium draft date, disenrollment or cancellation letters, and proof of prior coverage.

    Do some fact finding to narrow down the options you’ll present – Especially in areas with a large number of Medicare Advantage plans available or clients looking for a Guaranteed Issue Medicare Supplement, it’s overwhelming to a client to present them every option. Talk to the client briefly about what their priorities are and who their doctors are to find out whether there are plans that stand out as particularly good or bad fits. There’s no need to present a plan that doesn’t include benefits that a client is especially concerned with or that their doctor doesn’t accept.

    Be compliant – There’s no need to risk getting a sales allegation because of easily avoidable mistakes. Make sure that you have a scope of appointment filled out and signed as far in advance as possible. CMS requests 48 hours but doesn’t specifically require it in cases where it’s not possible. Also make sure that you have all the required materials to leave with clients including full enrollment kits, provider directories, the Choosing a Medigap Policy booklet, and anything else required by specific carriers or individual states.

    Know what basics you’ll need to cover, and in how much depth – Different clients will need different amounts of explanation about the basics of Medicare and how the plans they’re considering work. Are they totally new to Medicare? Are they just looking to change between like plan types? Are they switching between Medicare Advantage and Medicare Supplement plans? Each scenario means a different amount of background information that the client will require.

    Doing a bit of extra work preparing to meet with clients will not only help you get the sale, it will make you look more professional and give your clients a better experience, bringing you more referrals and better persistency.

  • Why Do Clients Want a Brand Name?

    Often agents can be frustrated by a client’s insistence on going with a particular brand name carrier, despite price and benefits that suggest they should go with a different company. So what is it that makes clients willing to spend more money for a brand name?

    They think higher cost is worth lower risk – Clients can perceive the more familiar company as being a lower risk than another, lesser known company. Higher cost is a tradeoff that they’re willing to make, because health care isn’t the type of thing on which most people want to take a risk.

    They think higher price means it’s better – It’s not uncommon for clients to expect that the higher priced product with the company name they know is somehow better. As an agent you know this may or may not be true, but clients are generally looking at their insurance purchase the same way they would any other purchase. The more expensive brand name is likely better than the less expensive generic version. Remind them that it’s more like generic prescriptions, where they’re essentially the same thing at a much lower cost than brand name.

    So how do you combat this?

    Show clients the CMS materials – By showing clients the “Medicare and You” or “Choosing a Medigap Plan” booklets, you can help them see that plans are regulated and that they’re protected by the federal government. For Medicare Supplement clients, show them the chart in the “Choosing a Medigap Plan” booklet that shows the different plan benefits and the part where it says that all letter plans are standardized and provide the same benefits.

    Show them ratings and explain company track records – Star ratings and financial ratings for insurance companies can go a long way to soothe a nervous client who is reluctant to choose a plan that would be a better fit because of company brand recognition. If you can show a client that both plans they’re considering are four star plans, or that both companies have an A rating, it can help them see past their bias towards a familiar company.

    Give them what they want – Ultimately, if a client is set on a particular “brand name,” give them what they want. Explain the benefits and the downsides and let them make the choice, even if it isn’t the one you would make. They’re the ones who have to be comfortable with the coverage provided and the cost.

    As is usually true, your job is simply to educate your clients and let them make the choice with which they’re comfortable.

  • Planning an Effective and Compliant Sales Event

    Sales events are a great way to generate leads and get clients the information they need, but there are some things to consider to make sure your events are both successful and compliant.

    Event Registration

    Get your registrations in early. – CMS requires that all events be entered into their system at least seven days in advance. However, many carriers have stricter requirements. Generally you should plan to get the appropriate registration forms to your FMO (or the carrier if you’re contracted direct) at least two weeks in advance. Check with your FMO or broker services for deadlines for specific carriers.

    Understand the difference between formal and informal events. – If you’re going to stand up and give a presentation, that’s a formal event. If you’re going to be at a booth or table and take people’s questions as they come by, that’s informal. Having your event registered correctly can potentially save you an allegation or discipline from carriers.

    If you need to change or cancel an event, you need to give at least 48 hours notice, barring a natural disaster or similar emergency. – If the event was advertised, you have to either advertise the change or cancellation in the same manner the original event was advertised, or you or someone standing in for you have to be at the original location at the original time for at least fifteen minutes.

    Venue Choice

    Think about accessibility for clients who use things like walkers or wheelchairs. – Wherever possible find an ADA compliant location. It’s also a good idea to look for someplace that doesn’t require extensive walking from parking to the actual venue.

    Figure out a head count. – How many people do you expect to attend? You want to make sure you have enough space for everyone to be comfortable and have adequate seating, but you’ll likely spend more than necessary if you reserve a space much larger than you need.

    Remember that choice of location reflects on you and the companies you do business with. – You don’t necessarily need to pick anything upscale, but pick something family friendly and where a wide range of people will feel comfortable.

    Make sure your location is easy to find. – Someplace on a small side street or down an alley or in a back corner of a crowded complex can make it hard for clients to find your event. If you’re holding your event in a particular room of a larger building like a hospital or community center, find out if the venue will allow you to put up signs near the main entrances directing people to the correct room. It’s also a good idea to include the room number or room name in any advertisements if possible.


    Show your personality, but avoid going too far off script. – If attendees have questions, gauge whether the answer is relevant to other people and if not, tell the client that you’ll be happy to discuss it with them in more detail after the meeting. Also, be wary of sensitive topics like politics and religion. While they can sometimes overlap with health care, they can also turn off clients who may have differing opinions. Stick to the facts, at the very least until you’re dealing with someone one-on-one and have a sense of how they’ll react.

    Use a presentation from a trusted source. – If you want you use a slide presentation or some other kind of visual aid, check the marketing materials from the carriers you’re presenting. Most carriers have presentations, flip books, posters, or some other visual aid that you can use. CMS also has downloadable presentations on a range of topics available here.

    Sales events are a great way to build your business, as long as you plan ahead!

  • How Periodic Reviews Can Help Build Your Business

    Here are a few reasons why periodic reviews with your clients can keep money in your gas tank and your clients happy.

    Situations change, and clients may not think to call you every time – As an agent, you know that sometimes even relatively minor changes — a small decrease in income, a change in treatment regimen, seeing a new specialist — can mean big changes in what coverage makes the most sense for a client. By scheduling an annual or semi-annual meeting or phone call to review your client’s situation, you can determine if there are changes that should be made, and make sure that they continue to trust you as their agent.

    Just because they have a Medicare Supplement plan doesn’t mean they can’t make changes after their initial enrollment, even as they age – In California and Oregon, clients have the opportunity to change their Medicare Supplement plan to an equal or lesser plan with any carrier for thirty days before and after their birthday every year, without having to go through medical underwriting. As carriers open and close blocks of business and rate changes take effect, this is a great way for you to make sure that clients continue to get the coverage they need at a price they’re comfortable with and that you keep them on the books. Even in states without the birthday rule, clients may be able to pass underwriting and change their Medicare Supplement plan as needed. Remember that every carrier has different underwriting guidelines and that a condition or medication that’s an automatic knock out on one carrier may be perfectly fine on another. If changing plans seems to make sense, keep looking until you find a carrier and a premium that works for the client.

    Plans change every year, and your clients might not be aware of it – For MAPD clients in particular, every year can potentially bring with it plan exits, arrivals, and network and benefit changes. Just because a particular carrier made sense when they were initially eligible or during last year’s Annual Enrollment Period doesn’t mean that a year or more later, the same plan will make sense. Check in early in AEP with your MAPD clients, make sure that their plan isn’t leaving the county, that there isn’t a new plan being introduced to their area that might be a better option, and that their providers and medications are still appropriately covered by the plan they have. If not, find them an option with which they’re comfortable.

    Keeping in contact with clients keeps you in their mind, and gives you the chance to uncover additional needs – Clients won’t need or want to change their Medicare Supplement or Medicare Advantage plan every year, but meeting with them gives you a chance to find out if there are new, unaddressed needs that you should be discussing. Pay attention to the cross-selling regulations, especially if you’re dealing with an MAPD client, but don’t leave opportunities for things like final expense or long term care coverage on the table.

    Building relationships builds your business – The more you talk with your clients, the more trust you can build with them. If they trust you and feel like they have a relationship with you, they’re less likely to be pulled away by another agent and they’re more likely to refer their friends and family.

    First and foremost, insurance is a service business. Even if it doesn’t directly lead to money in your pocket, checking in with your clients is just smart business.

  • Using Social Media In Your Insurance Business

    Health care and insurance have a reputation for being industries that are slow to adopt new technology, and for many agents it can seem unnecessary to develop a strong online presence. For most agents, however, this represents a huge missed opportunity to connect with current and potential clients, build a reputation within your community and industry, and be ahead of the curve as an influx of tech savvy Baby Boomers and older Generation X’ers age in to Medicare and younger Americans look for individual coverage as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

    Some key points to think about as you consider your use of social media:

    Don’t think it’s unnecessary just because your business is primarily in the senior market. – Older Americans are increasingly tech savvy, with a 2013 Pew Research Center survey showing that 59% of Americans 65 and older go online, and 82% of those who go online said they do so at least 3-5 times per week. In addition, 27% of Americans 65 and older use some kind of social media. Not only that, but the rate of internet use among seniors increased six points between 2012 and 2013 alone. As the relatively tech savvy Baby Boomers continue to age in to Medicare, this percentage is only going to increase. It’s also important to remember that many seniors seek help from their children or other younger relatives and caregivers to make decisions about things like their medical insurance, and these younger people are ever more likely to turn to the internet, especially social media, for information.

    If you’re on social media, you have to be easily accessible. – We know how busy independent agents are, so no one is going to expect you to be monitoring your Facebook or Twitter feed all day, every day, but it does need some monitoring. Social media moves qucikly, and if someone has a question, they expect a rapid response and will potentially move on to another source of information if they don’t get it. If you can’t do the monitoring yourself, you may want to consider hiring someone else to do it for you, which can be done for a reasonable cost in the case of most small businesses. If your social media accounts aren’t being actively monitored by anyone (and in this case, actively means roughly hourly at least during business hours), make sure alternate contact info that will reach you quickly, whether it’s an office or cell phone number or an email address, is prominently displayed on your page.

    Don’t be afraid to show your personality. – People connect with people, not with brands. Professionalism is wonderful and absolutely necessary, but that doesn’t have to mean generic or robotic. Even something as simple as a comment about community events or sports teams, or a reminder about something seasonal like flu shots or allergy medication, can go a long way to humanize your social media presence.

    It’s social media, so be social. – Obviously you want to share your own content and thoughts, that’s why it’s your page, but remember that the first word in social media is social, and you have to interact to really get the full value of being there. Get involved in a discussion with other people in the industry or share relevant news items, whatever makes sense to you to avoid sending nothing but a steady stream of your own marketing.

    Don’t forget about compliance. – General health tips, general Medicare information, being reachable for clients with simple information — all great. But remember that in the Medicare Advantage arena, anything plan or benefit specific is likely subject to review and approval and should probably just be skipped. If you want to share information that is plan specific, your best bet is to link to an approved marketing piece or website, whether it’s yours or the carrier’s. Also remember that client personal information should never be sent via social media. If they have a specific question and reach out to you online, give them a call or set up a time to meet with them face to face and go from there.

    Go where your audience is.  There are an ever growing number of social media networks out there, and especially for an independent agent or small agency, being on all of them is likely not practical or even necessary. Figure out where your audience is and focus on wherever that is. In general, older Americans tend to be more active Facebook, while younger Americans are more active on Twitter. You also want to figure out what your strengths are. If you really have the gift of gab and love being in front of the camera, maybe a YouTube channel where you discuss health news is a good option. If you do better one-on-one or don’t enjoy public speaking as much, it’s likely something you should just skip.

    Even referrals or existing clients are looking for you online.  Clients who lost your phone number, referrals who want to check you out before getting in touch, potential clients who saw an advertisement with your name on it — all of these people are looking at your online and social media presence to get in touch with you or decide whether to do business with you. It doesn’t have to be elaborate and it doesn’t have to take up all of your time, but if you don’t have anything, or if all you have is outdated, there’s a potential for your business to come off as shady or unprepared.

    Social media is an unavoidable part of marketing now, and this is only going to be more true as it becomes an ever more integral part of our daily lives, so get on it now if you haven’t already! Your business will thank you.