“AEP is coming…”
Every fall, our offices begin to look like there is a major sporting event underway. There is a tangible feeling of anticipation in the air – people intently focused on the Matrix-like screens full of arcane charts and lines of indecipherable texts, everybody ready to spring to action at the slightest sign of trouble. The paramount is to keep everything running smoothly – calls coming in, agents busy helping the members through the process, and all systems working in harmony to deliver the best experience. You would almost think you could hear the quiet purring of the servers if only they were not running in a distant cloud. The months of work and preparation come to fruition as the highest season starts – the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period, also known as AEP.
What is the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period?
What is the buzz all about? Seniors over 65 years and people with disabilities are eligible for the US federal health insurance program called Medicare. Once a year between October 15 and December 7, eligible people can revisit their choice and change their insurance plan. They can choose between the government-run original Medicare program or opt for one of the approved private insurance plans called Medicare Advantage. This is the prime opportunity for them to select a plan that better fits their needs – a plan that better covers their current health providers or a plan that gives them extra credit to spend on dental procedures. It is worth evaluating options even for people happy with their current plan – at least for peace of mind, they are not missing out on anything.
GoHealth is the leading insurance marketplace that helps customers navigate this often confusing and difficult process of Medicare Advantage plan selection. Our dedicated insurance agents cover the process from handling the first customer interest through eligibility screening, needs analysis, plan selection, enrollment, and post-enrollment care. While the insurance agents are the ones on call with customers, we in the Technology R&D organization are committed to delivering the best tools to our customers and agents to work through this process.
This means closely liaising with the business to understand and support the current and future needs. Some of the systems we build to make customers happy and agents successful include call routing, online health insurance plan marketplace, plan recommendation engine, or streamlined enrollment platform. In addition, many cross-cutting concerns are handled by our infrastructure, data, and other platform teams.
We work on new and innovative features for business throughout the year. However, because AEP is the most important part of the year for us, bringing the highest traffic and biggest opportunities, the entire year follows a seasonal pattern. For The Medicare Annual Election Period, all systems must be fine-tuned both for technical performance and user experience. As we build the systems and add new features, we have one goal in mind – the features must be in place and stable for prime time.
The yearly Medicare Advantage insurance plan renewal brings certain recurring tasks into our work. As we get closer to the AEP, our partner insurance companies start releasing information about the new plans. We need to process this new plan information and adjust any partner integration that needs updating. The plan information comes to us in various formats, and we make everything available in an easily digestible format for our agents. Many human and computer hours go into parsing the plan information just so that the agents can work with the plans in our marketplace platform instead of poring through the heaps of disparate PDFs. Each year is slightly different, but each year we try to perform a little better and a little faster by incorporating the lessons learned from last year into our tools and processes.
It’s all about collaboration
The AEP is not just about the new features as all our systems need to endure a many-fold increase in load. In preparation we scrutinize and critically evaluate each system for many attributes of quality. In collaboration across the teams we focus on load testing, performance tuning and overall resilience to get the most out of our infrastructure.
Despite the best efforts, issues sometimes do happen. At that point we want to be the first to know so we address the issues before they impact our business. AEP preparation thus becomes also a time to verify all resilience features, like logging and alerting, are in place. It brings us peace of mind that if something happens, we are well-equipped to detect it, get notified, and quickly resolve anything that came up.
All these activities culminate in the weeks before the start of the season. With the deadline quickly approaching, each task requires strict prioritization to decide what goes in and what will be left for after AEP starts. All the time we must keep the most important objective in mind – stay laser-focused on delivering stable and great experience for our customers and agents.
The Medicare Annual Enrollment Period
Then October 15 comes, and AEP starts. The buzzing activity of previous weeks turns into an anticipation and eager observation of all the notification channels. Now the rigorous preparation and attention to detail pays off as we keep a great track record of system stability. We know stable systems make for happy customers and that is the reason we invest so much time into getting everything ready.
As the days pass and the initial excitement slowly fades back to the daily routine, there comes the time for looking both back and planning forward. We need to address any tech debt accumulated in the pre-AEP rush and hold retrospectives to deliberate about things that went well and things that could go better. Once we document all the lessons learned and convert them into actionable items, the smaller ones will be included along regular features in the daily work while the larger ones will need to find a way into the product roadmap.
Still, as it gets darkest before dawn, the AEP traffic peaks at the closing days of the period. December 7 brings the last day and last hours of hyper-focused attention and anticipation. Then, as the dust settles, we slowly regroup, catch up on other duties and start the cycle of AEP preparation again.