MEDICARE HMOS: Marketing To Healthy Elderly Only
While many HMOs have increased their marketing efforts aimed at enrolling Medicare beneficiaries, the ads are mostly targeted at "physically active seniors," according to a study published in the July/August Health Affairs. The majority of ads studied did not target the full range of Medicare beneficiaries, such as the 5 million who are in poor health or under age 65 and disabled. Further, many of the ads -- a key source of information about HMOs for Medicare beneficiaries -- stated eligibility information incorrectly or in fine print. "As the number of plan choices increases under Medicare increases in the future, the challenge facing policymakers will be to develop marketing guidelines that will give all Medicare beneficiaries the information they need to make good choices without placing undue burdens on plans," said Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which conducted the study in collaboration with Porter Novelli.
Healthy And Wealthy
Marketing HMOs to Medicare Beneficiaries reviewed ads in 169 newspapers and on 129 TV stations and analyzed 21 HMO marketing seminars in New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Cleveland. Researchers found the most common message HMOs conveyed in their ads was that they offer more generous benefits at lower costs than the traditional Medicare program. More than half of the TV ads pictured seniors running, biking, swimming, snorkeling, riding amusement park rides or playing with grandchildren. None of the visuals in the newspaper or TV ads show people in hospitals or using wheelchairs or walkers and one-third of the 21 marketing seminars studied were not wheelchair accessible. Fifty of 70 newspaper ads did not explicitly mention under-65 eligibility, and 8 of these incorrectly stated a beneficiary must be 65 to enroll.
Read The Fine Print
The ads that did have the correct eligibility information printed it in small type. The fine print in many ads also contained important information such as benefit limitations, rules for going out of network and when and how copays apply. "It's not just that the fine print was difficult to read. Some of the information presented in the fine print was hard to understand -- even to a trained researcher," said researcher Ed Maibach, noting that the Health Care Financing Administration "strongly recommends the use of larger-than-normal type to make material easier to read for the elderly population."
Como Se Dice?
In addition, the researchers found that only one of the ads targeted Spanish-speaking beneficiaries, although New York, Los Angeles and Miami all have large Spanish-speaking populations and 16 Spanish-language newspapers were included in the study. The study was conducted Jan. 1 through March 31, 1997 as part of Kaiser's Medicare Policy Project. To obtain copies of this report, call 1-800-656-4533 and ask for #1417 (Kaiser release, 7/13).