Featured Health Business Daily Story, Sept. 5, 2012
Reprinted from MEDICARE ADVANTAGE NEWS, biweekly news and business strategies about Medicare Advantage plans, product design, marketing, enrollment, market expansions, CMS audits, and countless federal initiatives in MA and Medicaid managed care.
A not-for-profit Medicare Advantage plan operator in Minnesota said it is beginning to have success marketing its high CMS star quality ratings to potential enrollees and is tailoring the media and messages about them to various segments of its audience, according to a top executive of the plan. And Ghita Worcester, senior vice president, public affairs and marketing for UCare, says its providers are helping to get the word out about the importance of the star measures.
Nevertheless, acknowledges Worcester in an interview with MAN, “the average consumer isn’t really looking for or understanding star ratings yet.” Partly with this in mind, she suggests, a portion of UCare’s strategy is to communicate the importance of star ratings in conjunction with preventive care.
UCare is a 28-year-old organization (formed by faculty members at the University of Minnesota) that is the parent of UCare for Seniors, a 4.5-star MA plan with more than 100,000 members in Minnesota and 26 counties of western Wisconsin. The organization also has a four-star MA Special Needs Plan (SNP) that serves more than 9,000 Medicare-Medicaid dual eligibles in a 57-county area of Minnesota as a participant in the state’s Minnesota Senior Health Options program.
In a presentation at the Star Ratings Congress for Medicare Advantage Plans, sponsored by Global Media Dynamics, in Las Vegas last month, Worcester described UCare’s star ratings “communications strategy.” It is designed, she said, to raise awareness for both members and prospective members, and to “integrate the quality message across all communications channels.” She added that UCare seeks to draw a “connection between quality service and quality health outcomes.”
With this in mind, she continued, UCare educates members about star ratings and why they matter, seeks to “engage members in star ratings improvement initiatives” and promotes preventive care.
The organization faces several challenges in doing this, Worcester tells MAN. For one thing, she explains, consumers see CMS’s Consumer Assessment of Health Providers and Systems (CAHPS) survey and preventive care in general as something for the health plan. UCare in its stars communications strategy needs to convey that this is about how the members themselves access and get care — “it’s not like buying a car,” she says.
Part of what UCare communicates involves print documents, including newsletter articles and messages from the CEO, plus an annual report for members that features its high star ratings. For prospects, notes Worcester, there are direct-mail brochures, including about preventive care, and sales-presentation materials. With the aid of those, UCare is “beginning” to see “a little more savvy consumer” in terms of understanding star ratings, but it will take numerous ratings cycles to foster good understanding and engagement, she suggests.
In light of this, she continues, its member advisory committee recently recommended that a calendar of when preventive services should be obtained would be helpful to distribute.
For the SNP, Worcester adds, “you’re starting at a different point.” Sending flyers won’t work with much of this audience, so UCare for instance might focus on different media, such as a cable television program aimed at the area’s substantial Somali population (MAN 8/2/12, p. 8), she says. The organization seeks and obtains help from providers in fostering awareness of such efforts.
UCare also uses “hold” messages about its star ratings for customers telephoning its customer-service department, but Worcester points out that they are useful only for people calling in, and need to be supplemented with other phone and online efforts. The organization includes star-rating information on its website’s home and product pages and uses star-related data as a “core talking point” during sales and customer-service calls, according to Worcester.
As an additional outreach effort, UCare has morning radio drive-time messages this summer related to its high CAHPS rating in an effort to appeal to baby boomers.
Asked how the organization’s star-related communications efforts will be affected by CMS’s 2013 marketing guidance (MAN 6/21/12, p. 1), which includes requiring updates of star-related promotional materials within 15 days — instead of the previous 30 — of getting the 2013 star ratings, Worcester cites potential problems in getting the new information printed and incorporated in so short a time.
However, she stresses that the changes don’t affect UCare’s overall stars and preventive care communications strategy, and the new requirement to include the overall star rating if any individual-category ratings are used in marketing is in keeping with what UCare already has done.
The organization, she says, conducts well-attended meetings throughout the year just to educate the community about Medicare in general and star ratings in particular. “We’re in that period of time when the eligible beneficiaries are still learning what is involved in star ratings,” Worcester asserts. UCare’s effort to communicate the relationships between stars and quality is important in that, she maintains, and also “it’s the right thing to do.”
© 2012 by Atlantic Information Services, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
CMS Star Quality Ratings: Shifting Strategies for Medicare Advantage and Part D Plans and Providers, from the editors of Medicare Advantage News, provides an in-depth look at the impact and implications of CMS’s star-ratings system so far, as well as how the star-rating program is likely to change in the future. Learn more at the AIS Marketplace.
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