Many people are confused about Medicare, but that confusion may be especially prevalent among people aging into the program. At the same time, people turning 65 are often inundated with mailings about various Medicare health and drug plans, and may not know where to go for objective, accurate information.

Elder Law of Michigan (ELM)— in partnership with the State Health Insurance Assistance Program, called MMAP (Michigan Medicare Assistance Program)—saw an opportunity to reach these people early with information about objective counseling services and benefits. With the help of the Michigan Secretary of State and the Michigan Office of Services to the Aging, ELM and MMAP were able to contact thousands of persons turning 65 and let them know about the services that were available to help them.

What did they do?

To catch the attention of the people that they were trying to reach, ELM decided to send them something that everybody likes to get and almost always opens: a birthday card. This specially printed card included information on the back about where a person could get help with Medicare preparations. The card included the statewide toll-free number for the MMAP program, where calls get automatically routed to their closest counseling office. The envelope also had an additional insert that contained information on other benefits that the person may be eligible for but not know about.

A couple of important points about their mailings are that each envelope was individually addressed, rather than just using a label, and each envelope had a non-profit stamp affixed, rather than just a permit emblem on it. Both of these made a big difference because it made the card seem more personalized. Using the non-profit bulk rate permit to mail these saved thousands of dollars in postage costs.

Where did they get the names and addresses for all these people?

In Michigan, vehicle registration and identity cards are handled through the Michigan Department of State. Almost every Michigan resident has either a driver’s license or state-issued ID card. On every one of these, the Secretary of State has a birthday recorded.

Of course this information is not readily available to just anyone. However, with help from the Michigan Office of Services to the Aging (the state agency that oversees the MMAP program), they were able to obtain a list of people turning 65 over the next year. An agreement between the state agencies allowed for the sharing of information, but everyone had to agree that this information was to be used only for this project.

What other resources did they use?

While ELM didn’t have the resources to mail everyone turning 65 in the state, they were able to reach between 20-40% of individuals on the list, dispersed across the state. Beginning in fall 2012, they began a series of mass mailing to 4,000-7,000 individuals turning 65 before June 2013. ELM staff worked diligently to stuff the envelopes and get them ready for mailing–sending out over 25,000 cards to date.

Results and advice for replication

Because ELM doesn’t receive the end results, they only know anecdotally that the mailings have been a success. Local MMAP offices ask the question, “How did you hear about us?” in their intake, and have reported the mailings as a key source of calls.

For other states seeking to replicate the practice, Ron Tatro, Vice President of ELM, provides this advice: “If possible, try to get the phone number of the persons you are mailing to, or at least a sample of them, so that you can include a follow-up call of a random sample survey of individuals, to ask about the mailing. Did they get it? Did they open it? Did they have any questions about the content? This would be a great way to evaluate the program.”

For more information

Ron Tatro
Elder Law of Michigan