Execs say the momentum around Medicare Advantage creates a hotbed for innovation

The Medicare Advantage market is hotter than ever, and, as more people age into the program, it poses a significant opportunity for insurers to innovate.

Christine Leo, vice president of senior products at Cigna, said this population varies widely in terms of their needs and wants, so to keep up it's critical to listen closely to them and find new ways to address the challenges they face.

"There are so many different needs out there within our Medicare population, so it's really looking at what those needs are," she said.

Leo spoke on a panel at this week's virtual summit hosted by Fierce Health Payer, where she was joined by Elena McFann, president of Medicare at Anthem, and Sherry Stanislaw, general manager and officer at SCAN Group and Health Plan.


Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Cigna product team to change their thinking about a slew of topics, including telehealth and food insecurity.

"Particularly for those of us in the product area, it was a chance for us to look at things really differently," she said.

Stanislaw echoed the sentiment, saying that, for instance, a focus on telehealth opens the door for a new list of challenges. Seniors may not have the technology in place to conduct virtual visits or may need help in learning how to use it, for example.

So SCAN addressed this hurdle by launching HEALTHtech, a helpline members can use when they need assistance with technology, Stanislaw said. A member can call into HEALTHtech and get walked through any technology questions they may have.

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The company is expanding that program to offer HEALTHtech Plus, which will go into the home to provide more hands-on assistance to members that need it, Stanislaw said.

"Our seniors were, in a way, forced to advance their technology, something that we learned very quickly not everyone has the skills to do," she said.

McFann said that, similarly, the impacts of COVID-19 played a role in how the insurer is continuing to evolve its Essential Extras program, which allows Medicare Advantage members to select one or more supplemental benefits that meet their personal needs.

Due to the pandemic, Anthem saw food insecurity and mental health needs skyrocket, which led them to ensure that options around grocery needs or loneliness were embedded in the program. The goal, she said, is to make sure programs like Essential Extras remain "meaningful" to what members need the most.

"It does really speak to the way we are all being very conscious about how individuals’ needs differ," she said.