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Case Study on Medicare and Medicaid by Prime Research

Case Study – Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services


One of the most vexing challenges facing marketing and communications executives today is planning, managing and quantifying return-on-investment or “ROI.” In the case of Medicare Open Enrollment, however, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) research team, consisting of Medicare’s in-house staff augmented by and research provider PRIME Research, not only quantified the relative post-campaign returns on CMS’s investments in earned and paid media, but successfully planned its campaigns around formative optimization-research undertaken before investing even the first dollar.

Applying sound research fundamentals, the CMS team delivered high returns from a campaign that combined both paid and earned media by planning for ROI from the beginning; by setting objectives which were meaningful, reasonable and measurable; by deploying strategic investments through tactical channels with the highest potential; and, in the end, by quantifying a solid rate of return based on the extent to which the target audience behaved as a result of the communication. In this way, the CMS team overcame legacy barriers bound by “conventional wisdom,” territoriality and dis-integrated marketing communication to become one of very few organizations to successfully link communications output with behavioral outcomes and meaningful business results. What is more, the study confirmed statistically what we in PR have always believed in our hearts to be true: PR works…. and often more efficiently than other marketing and communication channels which command higher levels of investment.

All too often, research is formulaic. For formative research the steps are basic: conduct a few focus groups; initiate a tracking survey to assess change over time; conduct media analyses to assess earned media; and, yes, this formula offers useful results. But, it is time for measurement and evaluation programs to become more than the sum of its parts. This was the challenge Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) faced with the 2010 Open Enrollment Campaign. The team’s objective was to design and implement a research program to create and ensure key messages broke through the clutter and impacted beneficiary behavior during the brief OE period (October 15 – December 31). But more importantly, the research program had to measure the relative impact of paid and earned media tactics to determine which most efficiently communicated key CMS messages, and do so within the confines of standard tools for data collection.

By linking PRIME Research media analyses with pre- and post-campaign tracking data, the CMS-PRIME team effectively broke down the silos of marketing and public relations to identify which means of communications fostered the greatest behavior change among key target audiences.

Challenge / Opportunity

Each year during Open Enrollment (OE), CMS encourages Medicare beneficiaries to review and update their health and prescription drug plans for the upcoming year. Given the plethora of often contradictory information concerning health care and health care reform, CMS faced an important and unique challenge during the 2010 Medicare Open Enrollment period for 2011.

Beneficiaries encounter a complex task when they select their Medicare coverage during OE. These choices can influence the doctors they see, the types of drugs they receive, and the costs of their medical care for the coming year. All of this can have a significant impact on their health and financial situation. In addition, Medicare consumers are frequently bombarded with conflicting messages from multiple sources, including health insurance companies (whose television ad campaign expenditures dwarf that of CMS), friends and family members, doctors, and pharmacists – each and all of which increases the likelihood of misunderstanding and confusion. It is no wonder that many beneficiaries often choose the path of least resistance by doing nothing.

CMS continues to strive for the most efficient use of the government dollar, and with such a paid media spending imbalance compared to insurance companies, it is even more vital for CMS to determine and learn the effectiveness of its outreach and which efforts most efficiently communicate the primary call-to-action—ensuring that beneficiaries compare and review their plans during OE.

The challenge/opportunity was to develop a research program that could gauge standard metrics such as…

  • Beneficiary exposure to OE communications compared to previous years’ totals
  • Target audience awareness of paid television compared to previous years
  • Beneficiary knowledge of OE; and,
  • Earned media coverage compared to previous years.

Download the full report here.

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