October 15 kicked off the beginning of open enrollment season for 2022/2023, continuing through December 7. During this period, Medicare enrollees can compare plans and adjust their coverage to best align with their medical needs and maximize their savings. However, of the almost 64 million people enrolled in Medicare plans, 57% do not assess and make changes to their coverage, while 66% of enrollees aged 85+[MH1] do not take any action during open enrollment at all. Furthermore, about 8.7 million of the total Medicare enrollment population are considered Limited English Proficient (LEP), and this number continues to grow annually. Due to a number of external factors, including cultural and linguistic barriers, LEP communities face unique challenges when open enrollment season rolls around.
Challenges Faced by LEP Members
#1 Lack of Information about Medicare Programs
While this is not a barrier exclusive to LEP communities, a lack of information regarding Medicare plans and types of coverage is further compounded when relevant pathways are not available in a member’s target language. In fact, studies show[MH2] that almost 8.6% of the total LEP population in the U.S. remain uninsured and are at higher risk of remaining unenrolled due to limited multilingual resources and information pertaining to health plans, including Medicare programs.
#2 Limited Access to Materials
For those who are covered under Medicare, knowing what options are available and making plan adjustments can become excessively complex. In general, many beneficiaries have demonstrated difficulty in understanding the various plan types available to them. Beneficiaries with limited English struggle to find the appropriate resources to help make informed decisions about their coverage. This is not only due to language barriers but it can also be tied to physical barriers. For example, they may have translated materials available on digital platforms, such as email or website portals, but not have access to paper-based materials.
#3 Confusion Surrounding Coverage
With a variety of plans available, understanding what coverage is best suited to each beneficiary’s individual health needs can be overwhelming. In fact, 63% of Medicare recipients indicated being overwhelmed when selecting a plan.
With the addition of a language barrier, understanding elements such as plan premiums, co-pay, and types of procedures covered under each plan can be difficult. Many LEP communities are left confused about what services their plans will pay for, whether they are maximizing savings with their existing coverage, and if they can make adjustments according to their care requirements. As a result, many LEP beneficiaries avoid making any decisions altogether during the open enrollment period.
Ways to Support Your LEP Members
#1 Meet Your Beneficiaries Where They Are
Understanding the demographics of your beneficiaries and gaining insights into how they access information regarding their coverage can help Medicare providers understand buyer behaviors and identify gaps in communication during open enrollment.
For example, if member engagement indicates higher use of paper-based materials when seeking out information, ensure that all multilingual marketing materials are linguistically aligned with paper-based resources to provide holistic access for all members. This helps remove barriers where some individuals may struggle with technology, do not have access to a computer, or prefer to receive hard copies of their plan information.
#2 Provide High-Quality Interpretation Services
Whether interpretation is onsite, video-remote, or through the phone, providing a high-quality interpretation service bridges critical communication gaps and enables LEP beneficiaries to better understand their coverage. Different channels will be suited to different situations with phone or video-remote interpretation providing 24/7 access to field urgent beneficiary queries or concerns. Onsite interpretation, on the other hand, may be better suited to situations where digital platforms are otherwise inaccessible.
To ensure consistent quality, Medicare providers should develop robust training programs for efficiently connecting beneficiaries to interpreters. It is also critical to conduct proficiency testing to procure interpreters who are familiar with Medicare plan types and terminologies. They should be able to break down complexities in plain language if needed.
#3 Ensure Effective Translation of All Communications
Adopting a robust translation strategy across the board, both during and after the open enrollment period, ensures your members are kept up-to-date with any communications, regardless of language. Identifying the most commonly spoken languages among your members is the first step. The next step is ensuring the messaging is not bogged down with complicated terminology or technical jargon that could create further confusion.
Studies show that most people in the U.S. read at an eighth grade level, with further variability depending on different language groups. With this taken into consideration, ensure your messaging is appropriate for the target audience by using clear, easy-to-digest language when breaking down coverage types, plan costs, etc.
Open enrollment season can be overwhelming for LEP communities, compounded by a lack of access to multilingual resources and confusion surrounding their coverage. When developing a robust outreach strategy, it is critical that Medicare providers understand their beneficiaries’ demographics, including language and cultural barriers, and work to identify gaps in communication, which can result in poor health outcomes and hefty costs.
TransPerfect Healthcare understands the unique challenges health plans and their beneficiaries face, particularly during the busy open enrollment period. We provide a full suite of solutions for Medicare providers looking to connect with their LEP beneficiaries and maximize coverage to improve access to healthcare.
Discover our services here, or reach out to us today to learn more!