As the COVID-19 crisis unfolds, Medicare marketers across the country find themselves in a unique position to aid a group of individuals who they serve and who need their immediate help.

Editor’s note: The Medicare Special Enrollment Period mentioned in this article is in reference to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ SEPS for Exceptional Conditions (Medicare Managed Care Manual: Chapter 2 Medicare Advantage Enrollment and Disenrollment Section 30.4.4 SEPs for Exceptional Conditions - 42 CFR 422.62(b)(4) - (Rev. 1, Issued: July 31, 2018; Effective/Implementation: 01-01-2019).

CMS has the legal authority to establish SEPs when an individual or group of individuals meets exceptional conditions specified by CMS, including on a case-by-case basis. The SEPs CMS has established include: SEP EGHP (Employer/Union Group Health Plan). An SEP exists for individuals making Medicare Advantage (MA) enrollment requests into or out of employer sponsored MA plans, for individuals to disenroll from an MA plan to take employer  sponsored coverage of any kind, and for individuals disenrolling from employer sponsored coverage (including COBRA coverage) to elect an MA plan.


Countless working people age 65+ are losing their jobs and their health insurance as the COVID-19 outbreak spreads throughout the country. And many 65+ husbands or wives who made the decision to enroll in their younger, now-unemployed spouse’s plan rather than go on Medicare now face the same uncertain circumstances. The good news is that many of these individuals may now qualify for a Medicare Special Enrollment Period (SEP).

Unfortunately, many may not understand they have a Special Enrollment Period or what their options are once they do apply. That is where Medicare Advantage insurance companies can be a saving resource.

Proposed strategies to quickly implement

Digital: During the COVID-19 crisis, we all, regardless of age and employment status, find ourselves online more often to connect with our families and friends, get news updates, and to seek out community resources. There are several methods to get the message out regarding the availability of a Medicare SEP and the benefits of Medicare Advantage. They include:

  • Facebook: The social media platform provides one of the best online opportunities. Plans can:
    • Develop and boost company posts on the topic. Boost your posts to ensure that your community can see your message.
    • Target both the 65+ audience (who may be recently unemployed), and younger population (reaching family members and friends). In addition,
    • Target B2B audience in human resource (HR) departments.
  • Display: Programmatic targeting using display ads on job portals (e.g., Indeed, Monster) and HR portals/sites. Gmail (part of Google Display Network) and display retargeting could also be leveraged.
  • Paid Search: With paid search, target individuals that are researching COVID-19, job portals, and/or their insurance options if they become unemployed
  • LinkedIn: Showcase educational messages about Medicare SEP due to COVID-19 job loss
  • Plan websites: Plans should place a callout on their home page and New-to-Medicare landing pages, and any page that defines the enrollment periods.

Providers: Providers and their staff are likely shifting to telehealth/telemedicine appointments (reducing the effectiveness of in-office materials) but they may be fielding calls from 65+ patients who have lost their health coverage and need guidance. Plans can educate providers and their key staff that their older patients who have just lost employer insurance may be eligible to enroll. Plans could provide a one-page staff-oriented overview for staff education and a one-page patient-oriented overview to the provider that can easily be emailed to a patient. These materials can be reused for several audiences. A few are listed later in this article.

  • In some cases, providers may be willing to add a resources page and callout on their home page for patients who have recently become unemployed and lost health insurance
  • Providers may also want to send a letter to their 65+ patients who were not on Medicare

Plan Members: Reach out to members to let them know that recently unemployed family and friends age 65+ may have an opportunity to enroll in Medicare through a SEP and for them to enjoy the same benefits that plan members enjoy. Additional messaging to convey could include:

  • Reminder of plan coverage/benefits; any new changes, e.g., no copays for COVID-19 services
  • Potential Medicare changes—possibility of Part A deductible waiver for COVID-19 patients, waiver of Part B late-enrollment penalties, capping cost of certain prescription drugs
  • Warning about scammers—65+ being targeted with phony COVID-19 tests, care packages, etc. Reminder never to give out Medicare number except to in-network providers and pharmacists.

Employees: The same messaging can be sent to health insurance company’s employees who can pass on to family and friends that have been impacted.

Sales representatives and brokers: Ensure their awareness of SEP for unemployed 65+, refresher training as needed.

HR administrators and employers: Companies are stepping up more to help their employees and former employees. Make it easy for them to help 65+ former employees learn about their health insurance option with a Medicare SEP.

  • Reach out to your group members and offer to be a resource for their employees. Provide a special hotline number.
  • Partner with your local Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), other regional HR or other unemployment organizations.
  • Provide simple tools and information to benefits administrators/HR departments at local companies.

Senior Aide Organizations: Organizations that regularly support Medicare coverage decisions may not need this SEP information. But other organizations that support people age 65+ might appreciate the opportunity to assist their clients. Provide them with a simple one-page overview to educate staff and another one-page overview that they can email to anyone that inquires. The educational materials developed for providers can work for these organizations as well.

Public relations: Work with your PR team to contact local TV and radio stations to provide much-needed information (perhaps in the form of an interview with a plan executive) to their 65+ audience. Plans could also develop opportunities for a public interest story including quotes/comments from your executives (from the CEO to Chief Medical Officer).

Call centers: With this new Medicare SEP opportunity, your call center representatives may need a refresher on the SEP rules for job loss after age 65.

TV and radio: If a plan is currently running New-to-Medicare focused TV or radio, their spots may easily be modified to call out to these individuals to encourage them to call for help. Plans may want to consider adding digital video/over-the-top (OTT) networks to their mix, if they aren’t present already, inorder to reach a broad audience. If a plan is not actively on-air, a quick TV spot with graphics and voiceover can be developed. The same with radio. While radio listening may be currently reduced due to lower drive-time listenership, certain stations (such as sports stations) can help get a plan’s message to the 65+ consumer. A live-read spot is a good quick-to-market option.