Navigating Insurance Sales During the Medicare AEP & COVID

You need commissions, but you don’t want to catch, or spread, COVID. Can you compliantly ask health questions in person, or confirm clients’ vaccination statuses? Will more carriers allow remote Medicare sales? How can you have a profitable Annual Enrollment Period during the current health crisis?

Obviously, with the COVID-19 health pandemic still an issue, AEP is going to continue to look a little different this year. Just how different is still up in the air and may even change in a matter of days or weeks. We’ll cover what to expect, and how you can prepare for and handle face-to-face and remote Medicare sales appointments during AEP and COVID.

Note: The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services have not released official guidance on this topic as of this article’s publish date. The information provided below is what we suggest for agents to help ensure their and their clients’ safety and to remain compliant. Agents should also follow their carriers’ and states’ specific guidelines for sales during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Individual Face-to-Face Medicare Appointments During COVID

While face-to-face meetings aren’t necessarily encouraged right now, especially if you can complete an appointment or sale remotely, we recognize not every agent is able to sell remotely, and not every client is comfortable with discussing their options over the phone or online. If the counties in your service area are not under restrictions, and your carriers and the state’s Department of Insurance don’t discourage or forbid it, you may be able to meet with current and prospective clients face to face, in their home or in a public location, such as at a booth in a retail store. However, if you do have any face-to-face meetings, we urge you to take the proper precautions to protect yourself and your clients from any health risks, and any other steps to ensure everyone feels comfortable and safe.

If the counties in your service area are not under limiting restrictions, you may be able to meet with current and prospective clients face to face.

We suggest agents practice good hand hygiene, mask wearing, and social distancing at face-to-face appointments. If a client tries to shake your hand, let your client know that you would love to but politely decline due to the current health situation. Additionally, cut down on passing papers back and forth, where you can, by utilizing electronic Scopes of Appointment and applications.

With the wide availability of vaccines in the U.S., we suggest at least getting vaccinated yourself to prevent contracting the disease, and help mitigate any potential spread that could occur between agent and client. With more than half of the country fully vaccinated and climbing, the safety of in-person meetings continues to increase as well. While breakthrough infections are still possible, the COVID-19 vaccine is still our greatest tool in the fight to end the pandemic.

NO SALE is worth risking your health, your family members’ health, or clients’ and their families’ health.

Instead of meeting in a public place or going to your client’s house, you can always use your office space or RV to accommodate clients — just keep your meeting area well-cleaned and disinfect it after meetings. Put hand sanitizer out for you and your clients to use as well. Some prospects may feel more comfortable meeting you in a setting like this instead of inviting you into their home, when you may be going to multiple locations. If you do go into a client’s house, let them handle the doors and chairs, if possible. Carry hand sanitizer with you and use it before and after in-person appointments.

If you have been exposed to COVID in any way, or are experiencing symptoms that could be COVID-related, do NOT go to your appointments. Do your appointments remotely, if you feel up to it, or ask your clients if they can reschedule. NO SALE is worth risking your health, your family members’ health, or clients’ and their families’ health.

Do’s and Don’ts for Face-to-Face Medicare Sales During COVID

Stay six feet apart from your clients when possibleAsk questions related to a client’s health without their consent
Get vaccinatedDiscourage your clients from getting vaccinated
Request your clients wear a maskGo to in-person appointments if you have any symptoms of COVID, have tested positive for COVID, or have been around anyone who has tested positive or experienced COVID symptoms until self-quarantining for 14 days
Wear a maskDo temperature checks
Practice good hand hygieneShake hands with your clients
Have a piece of plexiglass in between you and your clients at a boothInvade a client’s personal space
Complete applications online if you’re able toTouch doorknobs, chairs, or other items in clients’ homes if you don’t have to

Medicare Educational Events & Sales Seminars During COVID

Holding Medicare educational events or Medicare sales events during the COVID pandemic is a legal and ethical grey area. A decision like this depends on a lot of factors, including your health, whether or not your state or county has any active lockdown or gathering restrictions, what any restrictions are (if they exist) and if you and potential attendees could follow them, what the health of your state and county looks like, as well as if your carrier is even allowing in-person member events to continue at this time.

Some retail sales programs will not be offered, and some carriers have made the decision to cancel in-person seminars for this AEP.

Back in March 2020, when the U.S. saw a significant increase in COVID-19-related deaths and the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a pandemic, several carriers announced that current and prospective member events and seminars were canceled until further notice. While there has not been specific CMS guidance on this topic, some retail sales programs may not be offered this AEP or may be offered with additional restrictions. Some carriers may cancel in-person seminars for this AEP due to the surge of the Delta variant and other variants, leading to the overfilling of hospitals in vulnerable regions of the country with lower vaccination rates. Additionally, at this time, some carriers are requiring attendees to show proof of vaccination to host carrier-sponsored events, so it’s more important than ever to make sure you’re following all compliance measures that your carriers, and any other regulating bodies, have put into place.

While these types of events are usually a great way to generate leads, we must all do our part right now to stay safe and protect each other from unnecessary health risks.

Selling Medicare Remotely During COVID

If you have the technology and know-how to do remote Medicare sales compliantly, we encourage you to sell this way this AEP. We try to make this as simple as possible for agents via a unique, CMS-approved Shop & Enroll online enrollment site and our Shop & Enroll training webinars and resources in Ritter Docs. No, it’s not the same as meeting with someone in person, but both you and your clients likely want to remain healthy and holding Medicare appointments remotely is really the best way to help ensure that. Besides, who doesn’t like earning money in their pajamas, from the comfort of their own home?

Get your own CMS-approved Shop & Enroll site for lead-generation and online enrollments

With Ritter’s proprietary technology, you can not only enroll clients remotely, but also utilize our Medicare Quote Engine and Drug Cost Estimator to let your clients know exactly how much they’ll pay for their coverage and prescriptions! Plus with our new FastTrack applications, you can send your clients prefilled applications to speed up the virtual enrollment process further — even for those without a shared client record! With our tools, you really can enroll clients easier and quicker than ever before.

Remote Meeting Tools

You can also utilize remote meeting tools such as Facebook Messenger, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, and to converse with clients! We recommend using these in conjunction with Shop & Enroll. These platforms allow you to video chat with your clients — something to make your meeting a little more personal. Most of these resources can be downloaded for free onto either a computer or smart phone.

If you have a tech-savvy client who is up for trying something new, suggest using one of these tools for your next meeting. Please note that recording via the recording function within the video conferencing tool is not recommended. You should not record any of these sessions with your clients, nor should you use them as permission to contact or to collect SOAs. Additionally, clients should not pass control to their agents. Instead, use the resources mentioned above to talk to your client like you’re in the same room. These tools are only to be used in place of a phone or in-person conversation with your client. Using them for any other purpose runs the risk of not being compliant with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Carrier Changes to Note

Still a new concept since the first pandemic AEP, some carriers are allowing and/or making it even easier for agents to sell their Medicare Advantage, Medicare Supplements, and prescription drug plans over the phone or online. You will find carriers allowing you to complete telephonic or electronic Scopes of Appointment. As for applications, you may be able to complete these over the phone, via video chat programs, or using your carriers’ e-Apps or a CMS-approved third-party site like Shop & Enroll (direct enrollment available for 27 Ritter carriers and counting!). Alternatively, you may also be able to email or mail an application to your client to complete, and then securely scan and email or upload it to the carrier; mail it back to the carrier or have the applicant get it back to the carrier.

Please be aware that some carriers who usually accept mailed applications may not want applications mailed to them right now.

Of note, at least one carrier has introduced new client attestations regarding Scopes of Appointment. Depending on carriers’ specific rules, agents may be able to collect SOAs at a later date or via other untraditional, but now accepted, methods; however, always check for compliant ways to go about this with the carrier first! Additionally, please be aware that some carriers who usually accept mailed applications may not want applications mailed to them right now. Ultimately, exactly how agents can conduct appointments and apply for coverage will vary from carrier to carrier, product to product, and state by state.

Note: Carriers are specifying that agents are NOT permitted to conduct a telephonic enrollment without a recorded line.

Discussing Expanded Telehealth Options with Your Clients

Some Medicare carriers previously offered telehealth services (i.e., ones with rural service areas), but now, many more have them in their benefit packages after President Trump made an emergency declaration allowing CMS to expand Medicare telehealth! In fact, most carriers have waived cost-sharing for phone or video telehealth visits with medical professionals for their members (if not indefinitely, at least for a limited amount of time). If you’ve never prepared to discuss telehealth coverage during AEP, there’s no time like the present! Many carriers have telehealth resources and offer agent trainings on these benefits. It’s a great idea to familiarize yourself with these before the AEP starts, since they’re in demand right now.

Going into the second year of the pandemic, many carriers have continued to include telehealth coverage with their plans as a low- or no-cost option for Medicare recipients to safely receive care. While it may be too soon to tell, we think this is one of the new aspects of insurance coverage that will become a staple inclusion for most carriers in the future.

If you’ve never prepared to discuss telehealth coverage during AEP, there’s no time like the present!

Taking Your Clients’ Current Financial Situation into Consideration

In the summer of 2020, the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors — Pennsylvania (NAIFA-PA) held a webinar with the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance to publicly discuss how COVID-19 has affected the insurance industry. Professionals encouraged agents to offer guidance to clients who have experienced job losses or other financial struggles and can no longer afford to pay premiums. So, now more than ever, prepare to ask about, and be empathetic of, your clients’ unique financial situations. Plan ahead and be ready to brainstorm with clients, when acceptable, to help them find ways to afford coverage they may want and/or need.

Additionally, keep in mind that the estimated historic rise in the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) coupled with a rise in inflation may have unforeseen impacts on the amount of money in Medicare recipients’ wallets (or just how valuable that money is). Continue to pay attention to any COLA changes as they’re announced!

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These are certainly trying times, and everyone is dealing with the current health situation and government and societal restrictions, whether we’re for them or against them, in their own way. While the need to do things a little differently this AEP might have you feeling frustrated, try to take a step back and remember that certain guidelines are in place to protect your safety, your family members’ safety, your clients’ safety, and their families’ safety.

We’re here to support you with the tools and guidance you need to adapt and earn your Medicare AEP commissions compliantly, even during COVID. And if you have any questions, feel free to reach out! People need the proper Medicare coverage now more than ever, and you can rest assured there are ways you can still provide it to them.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in September 2020. It has been updated to reflect more current information.

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