Successful Strategies for Overcoming Resistance When Providing Benefit Application Assistance
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Successful Strategies for Overcoming Resistance When Providing Benefit Application Assistance

November 23, 2009

Benefits Data Trust (BDT) in Philadelphia, PA, a Benefits Enrollment Center, focuses on finding and enrolling low to moderate income seniors in a variety of core benefit programs, including the Medicare Part D Extra Help/Low-Income Subsidy, Medicare Savings Programs, Pennsylvania's State Pharmaceutical Assistance Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as Food Stamps). BDT relies heavily on trained call center staff to conduct both inbound and outbound calling to individuals who are potentially eligible for specific benefit programs. Once BDT staff identify someone who is likely eligible for a particular benefit, they then proceed to complete an application for the benefit over the phone.

BDT is aware that many people who are likely eligible for valuable benefits are often very hesitant to apply for those benefits, especially over the phone. The fear of disclosing private information such as income and assets, apprehension about making any type of change to their overall health care situation, and the prevalence of incorrect information about benefits enrollment can quickly become barriers to helping someone apply. BDT knew that in order to be effective they would need to develop a strategy that would enable their staff to overcome this resistance and help people successfully apply for benefits. Read on to find out what they did.

Who was the target audience?

People with Medicare who are potentially eligible for public benefit programs.

What did they do?

After listening to multiple conversations that BDT’s Benefits Outreach Specialists (BOS’s) had with their phone clients, BDT management identified common barriers to benefit application and developed effective messaging that could be utilized by the BOS team to control the conversation and calm callers’ fears. BDT decided to establish a formal, ongoing training for all BOS staff that enables them to successfully identify and respond to common objections that they may encounter.

Some common objections/challenges that BDT routinely encounters and how they effectively respond

I don’t want to give out my personal information over the phone. I don’t trust you.
Listen and respond with sincerity to client’s concerns. Offer them options to verify the legitimacy of the call, application, or organization, and give the client space to decide how they would like to continue.

I don’t want to mess up my existing coverage. This benefit will interfere with what I have now.
Ask probing questions to establish the nature of client’s coverage and offer a clear explanation of how benefits will work, or why they may not.

I would like to apply, but don’t have any of the information that you need handy.
Work with clients to gather estimated figures, or use monthly income amounts to determine yearly income. Ask closed-ended questions to help clients recall information they may not be sure of. Demonstrate patience and a sincere desire to help clients provide the information. Offer suggestions about where they can locate the information they may not be sure of.

Language/communication barriers
Provide bilingual staff and translator services. Work patiently with clients who may speak limited English, and offer to speak with relatives or friends when appropriate.

Not currently taking prescriptions
Remind clients that medical situations can change and that having the benefit already in place will be easier than applying once they need it. Supply an accurate description of benefit details to assure the client that “not using” the benefit after being enrolled cannot hurt them.

Concerns of having to “pay back” benefits
Sympathetically respond to the client’s concerns and supply a confident and accurate statement describing the benefit(s). Dispel misconceptions about benefits enrollment through demonstrated authority in conversation with the client.

Welfare/“hand-out” stigma
Respond specifically to a client’s hesitance over applying for assistance and remain enthusiastic that taking advantage of available benefits is commendable. Throughout the conversation with the client, maintaining a tone of respect and avoiding judgmental language like “low-income” or “welfare” will also help frame the benefits in a more favorable light. Encourage the client to apply by being reassuring and expressing a willingness to help.

Third party handles affairs
Remain patient with the client to see if they are able to supply the needed information themselves. Ask for estimates, offer suggestions of where to access information, and when appropriate, ask the client if someone else handles their affairs. If so, offer to speak to this person directly, or have the client call once they have reviewed the information with this third party.

What was the result?

Thanks in part to the above strategies, BDT’s Benefits Outreach Specialists have successfully completed more than 155,000 applications for public benefits and enrolled more than 115,000 seniors in benefits programs. These efforts have delivered over $350 million in annual benefits to seniors in need. According to Ginger Zielinskie, VP of BDT, “Key to our success is our ‘person-centered’ approach to the application process. Developing trust and understanding the barriers our clients face allows us to more effectively communicate and in turn help them apply and access the benefits they are eligible to receive.”

For more information

Ginger Zielinskie
Benefits Data Trust
2 Logan Square, Suite 550
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 207-9100


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