Talking Medicare: The Intersection of New Expectations and Modern Engagement Tools

There is a seismic shift occurring in the Medicare population. To highlight the point, I’ll start with a brief personal story.

My parents aged into Medicare in 2012. My father worked for more than 40 years with Union Benefits in Ohio. As such, my family enjoyed very rich benefits compared to those I see today. When my father was my age, here’s a conversation we likely had:

    • Me: “Dad, how much does it cost to go to the Doctor?”
    • Dad: “It’s free” or “It costs $10.”
    • Me: “When Mom was in the hospital when we were kids, how much did it cost?”
    • Dad: “It was free” or “It cost us a HUGE deductible. It was $100.”
    • Me: “Dad, how did you decide which doctor to see?”
    • Dad: “Well, a guy at work told me about a place on I-71 and Bagley that looked good” or “Mom has a church friend she recommends.”

elderly couple sitting on bench pondering medicareA conversation along these lines is probably familiar to people with parents who aged into Medicare within the last 20 years. A meaningful percentage of that population was accustomed to very rich employer sponsored benefits that gave them no reason to shop for health care and no way to compare quality. Times have changed in many ways including:

  • The most recent class of those turning 65 have been subject to high deductible health plans.
  • Many of this population were in their mid-50s, prime earning years, during last decade’s recession. During this rough economy, employees watched their benefits erode and the burden of medical expenses shifted from the employer to the employee.
  • Today’s Medicare generation is tech savvy and smartphones are part of their everyday lives.

So, how does this shift impact health plans?  

The men and women aging into Medicare today demand more than past generations—access, transparency, services and general control of their health care. They come equipped with digital skills and are comfortable with online research. They demand the ability to understand quality with their providers in the same way they understand a restaurant’s Yelp score or reviews about the new technology gadget they are considering to purchase. A few ways health plans can meet these needs:

  • Make it obvious and make it easy. Most plans provide members shopping and search tools. (Or they should.) These tools should be easy to find and easy to use.
  • Remind them and then remind them again. These “awareness” drives should occur in call centers, on member ID cards and via ALL member touch points. When Medicare members shop for care and take more control of their health, all stakeholders win.
  • Reward members who shop successfully. Of course, there are strict Medicare guidelines, but the more regulations evolve, the more opportunity there is for plans to incentivize positive member actions.
  • Be human and get personal. Today’s members don’t just want to be treated like an insurance ID number, they expect excellent consumer experience that includes a personal touch. Consumer experience being delivered by large consumer brands like American Express and Marriott International are good sources of inspiration health plans can look to in order to deliver what members expect.

[RELATED: Check out what we’re doing to make HealthSparq One more accessible to aging populations and persons with disabilities.]

Medicare sponsors that remain ahead of the curve and create frictionless experiences that focus on innovation will create loyal members for years to come. Offering an easy-to-navigate platform where members can access everything in one place is an important step to increasing member satisfaction. Services like provider search and reviews are helpful tools for your members but offering additional services like out-of-pocket cost for individual services, treatment timelines, appointment scheduling and telehealth goes beyond standard customer satisfaction. Providing members valuable information right when they need it using contextual messaging adds additional value to a Medicare plan. And, it’s not just all about online access, an accessible provider directory when members can refer to when they are not online should also be part of your strategy.

While Medicare provides protection against excessive costs for consumers, it doesn’t cover it all. Especially traditional Medicare. In fact, there can be major out-of-pocket expenses for folks with lingering conditions or when non-covered costs like vision, dental and hearing come into the picture. Without extra coverage, most Medicare beneficiaries need to be good shoppers, just like younger populations. And, it just so happens, that when Medicare members are good shoppers, their health plan wins too—call it a win win!

Deliver more for your Medicare members.

With the tech savvy Medicare population of today demanding control and access to information, health plans need to deliver. We all know that there is no way to turn the clock back and consider $100 a “HUGE deductible” (recall the conversation I had with my dad), but health care should be accessible to all of us and not be avoided because we fear we can’t afford it. After all, isn’t the definition of insurance something people buy to protect themselves from losing money?

Interested in learning more about HealthSparq and how your members can make smarter health care choices? Get in touch by emailing us at or request a demo of our platform.