By Lauren Flynn Kelly

As seniors during the coronavirus pandemic face issues such as loneliness, social isolation and food insecurity, an added source of stress for some may be trying to enroll in Medicare. And Medicare Advantage plans are uniquely positioned to educate people over the age of 65 who may qualify for a Medicare special enrollment period (SEP).

“People who have other coverage when they become eligible for Medicare have even more to wade through, like whether Medicare will pay primary or secondary, and whether they have access to any other enrollment windows. The answers are different for each type of insurance and situation,” explained Medicare Rights Center Federal Policy Director Lindsey Copeland in a blog post. “The considerations are dizzying, and the stakes are high.”

“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,” suggests a client briefing from marketing agency DMW Direct.

Independence Blue Cross, for example, says it has modified its New to Medicare approach in direct mail, digital and social media campaigns and, when applicable, is able to engage through its broker partners existing members who have lost commercial coverage with the insurer.

The biggest challenge the insurer has observed for this group is having to navigate through Social Security, particularly if individuals only need to add Part B coverage as a “late retiree,” says Kortney Cruz, vice president of Medicare sales and marketing at the insurer.

Medicare Rights Center has issued letters to CMS and Congress asking them to extend currently available Medicare enrollment periods by establishing a new SEP or re-opening and extending the general enrollment period. CMS at press time issued a notice to all MAOs, Part D sponsors and Medicare-Medicaid Plans clarifying that the “exceptional conditions” SEP for Individuals Affected by a FEMA-Declared Weather Related Emergency or Major Disaster applies under the current circumstances. The May 5 memo from the Medicare Enrollment & Appeals Group said the SEP is available to beneficiaries who meet certain criteria and who were eligible for — but unable to make — an election because they were affected by the pandemic.