October 15—the start of Medicare’s Annual Enrollment Period (AEP)—is less than three weeks away. Millions of Americans will explore their options, enroll in health plans, and join or drop prescription drug plans. But who will help them navigate the ebb and flow of this market? How can one be sure they’re picking the best plan for their financial and health needs when there are so many to choose from?
This is where health insurance agents shine. AEP is an opportunity to use your expertise to inform folks in making an important decision. Of course, this year presents a unique set of challenges.
I met my friend and colleague, Franjo, to discuss some of these challenges and how to overcome them. Franjo has been a licensed agent specializing in Medicare since 2015. He was a breakout success from his very first AEP and continues to add to his book every year.
I guess it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: this year has been crazy. Aside from social distancing measures and meeting with your clients remotely, are there other challenges you foresee this year?
Franjo: Having an election this year involves a lot more active marketing to clients. So much mail is going to each individual’s house related to Medicare and this election now—it becomes hard to digest all the info. Reaching out is sometimes impossible due to voicemail boxes being full. Just imagine having 10 or more Medicare Advantage companies sending you mail in addition to all the PACs and non-partisan political campaigners calling and mailing every day. It can be a nightmare on the receiving end.
But you’ve managed to stand out! The market might appear saturated, but you’ve found certain niches of opportunity, right?
Franjo: I always said, in the Medicare business there is always room for more. I don’t think it’s saturated at all. The best way to get into this business is having a mentor or a teacher that knows Medicare and is willing to show you their ways. There are lots of opportunities and many possible niches. To give you an example, I’ve been working with the Croatian, Bosnian, and Serbian communities in St. Petersburg (Florida) and I’ve found that knowing the language is helping me grow tremendously in this specific niche. Knowing a second language truly helps. Maybe you’ve served overseas. There are VFWs and similar organizations you can join. The more groups and organizations out there that you’re a part of, the more people will be exposed to your name and the services you offer.
Great advice. I can imagine struggling to find an agent, as a senior, who speaks fluent Croatian. They must be relieved talking to you! Speaking of which, are you still meeting with your clients or potential clients in-person? Do you find that people are apprehensive of having in-person meetings?
Franjo: It depends on the individual. I would say the majority don’t mind in-home appointments as long as I’m wearing a mask and keeping some distance. Some are very adamant about staying remote, which I completely understand. And there are some who just don’t care! These are veterans who served in WWII and Vietnam, COVID-19 doesn’t scare them. *Laughs*
Many seniors have also been quite lonely during this period. I think the mental health aspect isn’t taken as seriously as it should be in regards to all this social distancing. People need to talk to one another, and talking to individuals over the laptop or on the phone doesn’t cut it sometimes.
It sounds like you are providing warmth and companionship in addition to your insurance expertise. For the people who are adamant about being remote, how is the e-application or online enrollment process going? Is there some extra hand-holding involved when they aren’t physically present?
Franjo: There’s definitely some hand-holding for the e-application when speaking to Medicare beneficiaries. I like to stay on the line with them when completing signatures and SOAs just in case they come up with a problem. It’s 10 minutes of my time, but it solidifies the sale and goes above and beyond for servicing your clients. The younger folks—40 and under—usually just prefer an email sent to them so they can finish the application on their own. Also, some companies just have easier e-applications which provide easier ways to sign and a better overall experience. It’s a good idea to get appointed with a variety of them and get to know each company’s e-application.
E-applications are becoming the norm, even for a lot of in-person meetings. Are the carriers you’re appointed with providing a lot of resources and direction for remote sales, or are they mostly leaving options up to you?
Franjo: Yes, some companies are better than others, but aside from efficiency, all of them provide ample resources for selling remotely. The software and client tracking software that some companies offer now is spectacular. With a click of a button, you can service clients with customer service, billing, PCP changes, et cetera. Really neat.
Back to standing out; there’s something else that makes you unique as an agent. You rock at the piano. I imagine you’ve had the opportunity to play for some potential clients, right?
Franjo: Thank you for the compliment! Yes, I used to play once a month at my senior locations before COVID-19 for about half an hour. I’d always introduce myself as a health insurance representative and offer my services before and after playing some music. They really appreciated the music, sometimes so much they just started calling me the piano guy. Getting into senior centers with a soft entry like offering music or activities is a great idea! The event coordinators like that and the residents appreciate it much more than the Medicare 101 presentations they’re bombarded with. Not to mention, the ladies love you, which means more referrals. *Laughs*
That’s awesome. Last question: do you have any words of advice for fellow independent agents for the 2021 AEP?
Franjo: Sure. It’s okay to make mistakes–you’ll make plenty. But never give up helping seniors. They’re the most vulnerable population. If you’re the type of individual that only sees dollar signs above these people’s heads, you’ll never succeed. Become a trustworthy agent that takes time and goes above and beyond for people. If you don’t know the answer to a particular question, don’t lie. Seniors catch on real quick. Instead, tell them you don’t know the answer, but you’ll find it. After all, this is how we learn. It’s trial and error. Stay motivated. It can be hard when you’re a one man show, but what helps is becoming well-acquainted with your community. Spend some time getting to know your area, select a few zip codes you think you’ll do well in, and concentrate your efforts there. Set up a routine of picking places to visit, follow-up calls, and always, always ask for referrals. Your first and second year of AEP will be the toughest, but if you survive the first two, you’re well on your way to becoming a flourishing agent! Then you can expand into additional services. I wish everyone the best out there!
*This is an interview with an independent agent whose opinions and experience are his own. The agent is compliant and adheres to CMS rules and guidelines. These opinions and experiences do not necessarily mirror the business philosophy of Network Insurance and associated companies, though some opinions intersect. For licensed agent use only. Not for use with consumers. B09242006