Every day about 10,000 baby boomers become eligible for Medicare, providing a year-round opportunity for independent pharmacies. Because the initial Medicare enrollment process can be so frustrating, many beneficiaries stay with the same plan year after year, even though switching could save them hundreds or thousands of dollars each year. For independent pharmacies, this presents an opportunity to become a trusted resource for patients as they first enroll in Medicare and can build long-term loyalty among seniors, who are high users of prescription medications.

Going Beyond Open Enrollment

The Open Enrollment period for Medicare is an extremely important opportunity for independent pharmacies to conduct outreach and assist patients. But if pharmacies limit their outreach to Medicare customers to only the Open Enrollment period, they're missing a very big opportunity. Related: Make This Year's Medicare Open Enrollment Count.

Demographic Trends

How Independent Pharmacies Can Become a Trusted Resource for MedicareEvery month about 300,000 seniors turn 65 and face the daunting task of selecting Medicare coverage for the very first time. Because they are eligible to sign up for Medicare for three months before and three months after their birthday, independent pharmacies have plenty of opportunity to reach and assist those patients.

The Opportunity for Independent Pharmacies

Being a trusted resource for patients making a decision that could cost them thousands of dollars a year allows independent pharmacies to show their expertise and build a loyal base of customers who tend to take many medications. Among people age 65 and older, three-quarters take an average of six prescription drugs.1

Beyond plans to reach out during Open Enrollment, the following actions can expand the number of Medicare beneficiaries pharmacies reach:

1. Be available regularly. Independent pharmacies can hold monthly or quarterly educational sessions in the community for people about to turn 65, at locations such as the local public library or senior center. They can provide a general overview session and invite people to schedule personal appointments in their pharmacy for individual consultations.

2. Analyze customer databases. Independent pharmacies can identify current customers who will turn 65 in the next four months, and reach out to them by phone, mail or other messaging to explain that their pharmacy is available to help them with their initial Medicare decision. They should be sure that patients know that failing to sign up for Medicare on time can result in a penalty of paying higher premiums for the rest of their life. Pharmacies can also schedule follow-up contacts with people who don't respond the first or second time. Remember, they have three months after their 65th birthday to sign up.

3. Make referrals easy. As independent pharmacies hold consultations during Open Enrollment, and with individuals throughout the year, they can offer cards to easily pass along to friends and family members who will be turning 65. They can include a brief statement about how their pharmacy can help and the number to call to schedule an appointment.

Personalize the Experience

As independent pharmacies prepare to compare Part D drug plans, they should ask what is important to each patient. For example, some want to be on the same plan as a spouse, but it is important for them to know if that will be a costly decision. Others want to be sure a specific medication will be covered. Related: Find ideas for making the most of Medicare consultations.

Make It Ongoing

Once independent pharmacies have given patients information for enrolling the first time, they should remind them to check their options every year during the Open Enrollment period. This will help patients understand that plan coverages may change each year, so the best plan for them today may not be the best plan next year.

Pharmacies should tell customers when their pharmacy starts scheduling appointments for Open Enrollment season, and ask if they'd like a reminder from them to set up an appointment before they face their first Open Enrollment.

A Kaiser Family Foundation study of Medicare beneficiaries found that many stayed with the same plan once they enrolled because the initial enrollment was so frustrating.2 If independent pharmacies can make that first enrollment easier, patients may be willing to check their choices every year, and keep coming back to them as their trusted source of information.

This post originally published as Become the go-to place for Medicare information the Smart Retailing Rx Blog.

Related: Learn about McKesson's Independent Pharmacy Services and Solutions



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