July 27, 2023

Why Medicare Payers and Providers Should Embrace Co-marketing

Rafael Rodriguez, Group Account Director

Today’s Medicare marketplace is more crowded than ever. The average consumer can choose from 43 Medicare Advantage plans, an increase of more than 126% over the past decade. The competition among providers is just as fierce with more options for when and how to get care in person, virtually or at home. Studies show that consumers aren’t exactly loyal to providers, engaging with an average of four to five provider brands for their care.  

In such a competitive field, any small differentiator can tip the scales. That’s where a collaborative co-marketing strategy comes in. Under a co-marketing arrangement, payers (insurers) and providers (primary care providers, clinics, hospitals and/or health systems) join forces to promote and elevate both brands in the hearts and minds of consumers. Here’s why Medicare payers and providers need to embrace co-marketing.

The Benefits of Payer/Provider Co-marketing

Co-marketing efforts can be a win for Medicare payers, providers and consumers alike. Here’s how.

Payers and providers:

  • Share financial, talent and marketing resources.
  • Increase visibility to consumers through expanded reach and frequency of messaging.
  • Enhance consumer credibility of and association with both brands.
  • Gain share of voice, especially when competitors aren’t advertising, or reduce the scale or scope of campaigns.
  • Drive acquisition potential of membership and patient panels.
  • Amplify individual brand marketing efforts.


  • Feel they’re at the center of both brands’ efforts.
  • See better communication between both brands.
  • Appreciate more coordinated, personalized care from brands working together.
  • Develop trust and loyalty from better healthcare experiences.

At the end of the day, consumers want a seamless healthcare experience from beginning to end. They just want their health plan and provider to work easily, affordably and reliably. Co-marketing helps to create the perception of a seamless experience. The shift from patient to consumer means that beneficiaries are exerting their purchasing power like they should. They’re no longer passive patients who accept whatever they get. They’re making choices to get the coverage and care they want and deserve even if it means navigating through more options. A co-marketing plan can help inspire consumers to switch to a plan and a provider that put them first.

It’s not just consumers who appreciate the enhanced collaboration; it’s providers too. When smaller provider organizations like clinics and primary care providers see the time, effort and financial backing that a national carrier puts into a co-marketing effort, it changes their perspective of that carrier for the better. Like consumers, providers will feel seen, heard, understood and respected. They feel like they have a carrier holding their hand, empowering them and encouraging them to contribute their ideas and points of view throughout the marketing process. They know that payer has their back. A co-marketing effort won’t eliminate operational challenges, but it can foster payer/provider trust.

Co-marketing Best Practices

Payer/provider co-marketing is at its best when it is centered on the consumer, aligned across the organization and engaged at the community level. Here’s how to achieve all three.

Consumer Centered

Consumers won’t be convinced to become members or patients without knowing what’s it in for them. Exceptional co-marketing campaigns answer two questions: 1. why consumers should care about these brands and 2. why they are working together.  

Consumers need to understand how their health and wellness could be improved by enrolling with a specific plan and using a certain provider. They need to imagine what it will look and feel like to have these complementary offerings in action. Payers and providers can make it concrete by explaining how, despite a chronic condition like diabetes, they improve consumers’ lives with the right care and a plan that makes managing their health simple.

Payers and providers can establish their expertise and position themselves in a humanistic way through thought leadership. Each can stay in their swim lanes yet offer a unique but compatible dimension to the topic at hand. When payers and providers outline these benefits upfront, consumers react positively.

Top-to-bottom Organizational Alignment

Strategy is often driven at the corporate level but executed at the local level. Don’t leave them out of discussions. Too often, brands forget about their local champions even when the local activations are an essential part of the strategy. Cascade the strategy down the organizational funnel, sharing the right communications at the right levels to build buy-in. This way, everyone is working toward the same goal rather than being at cross purposes with each other. With a top-down, bottom-up approach, payers and providers can streamline their efforts for maximum impact.

Community Engagement

Community engagement activities that give brands a physical presence and a local face boost consumer trust. Outreach can happen through health fairs, community events and even social gatherings at a healthcare facility. Brands can leverage grassroots marketing to target different audiences at culturally relevant festivals, senior-friendly sporting events or causes like veteran health. The local champions become brand ambassadors who create personal, face-to-face experiences. These experiences enhance consumer trust in brands and help sway payer and provider decisions in the short and long run.  

Common Co-marketing Pitfalls

No two payer/provider co-marketing campaigns are created equal. Each one depends on the organizations involved and the goals of the campaign. Still, there are certain traps that can cause the plan to crumble:

  1. Focusing only on the Annual Election Period (AEP), which could mean getting lost in the AEP noise. Yet 10,000 people turn 65 every day, and special election periods mean almost year-round enrollment. Plus, consumers can change providers whenever they want. Why wait to market for eight weeks a year when there are 44 other weeks?

  1. Relying solely on the co-marketing efforts for all an organization's marketing needs. Co-marketing should be only one aspect of a bigger marketing plan. Both payers and providers need to drive their individual marketing efforts in tandem with their co-marketing efforts. This is especially true for providers who might have smaller budgets as compared to carriers.  

  1. Lack of communication around roles, responsibilities, expectations and goals. Payers and providers need to work under the same information, assumptions and guidelines—and stay in their respective lanes. This goes for all decision-makers and influencers. Communication should be open, transparent and fair. Payers should speak to their expertise and providers theirs. Plans can scale up or down, but what matters is everyone agreeing to the plan on paper as a joint plan. It’s not the payer’s plan or the provider’s plan but a collaborative one. Key performance indicators should be set up front to be measurable and attributable. Payers and providers also need to understand that the benefits of their efforts may happen on different timelines. For example, payers might see an uptick in members first and providers later once beneficiaries start using their coverage.

  1. Thinking that just because organizations do business together means they can co-market too. Not every business partnership can lead to a successful co-marketing effort. Payers and providers need to ensure their values, reputations and messaging align with each other first. There must be brand synergy, not simply a business arrangement. It can’t be transactional. It must be relational.

  1. Not considering the marketing mix or level of investment. There are more marketing channels today than ever before. To get the right results, payers and providers need to pull the right levers and invest in the right channels. Those will vary based on the audience and individual markets as well as the organizations involved. For example, if a payer or provider doesn’t have the human capital to activate a grassroots community engagement strategy, they will need to pivot to more feasible tactics. Other times it is a matter of not investing enough in the strategy as a whole or in the right channels. Particularly on the payer side, co-marketing efforts tend to see a lower investment.  

Legal and Compliance Considerations

Marketing in the healthcare space entails a lot of compliance work, especially regarding Medicare. And rightfully so. Misleading Medicare ads featuring celebrities like Joe Namath have caused confusion and chaos. According to Deft Research’s 2023 Medicare OEP and Disenrollment Prevention Study Executive Research Brief, some 20% of beneficiaries were “unwittingly switched” to a plan they didn’t expect.  

Yes, there are compliance concerns with co-marketing against steering and anti-kickbacks. Yes, the rules from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) change from year to year. Yes, payers and providers will have tension between them, often with payers being more conservative than providers when it comes to interpreting CMS guidelines.  

But despite all this, Medicare payers and providers can and should be able to navigate the red tape together. When payer and provider teams align on agreed-to rules of the road up front, they can make their brands jointly stand out from the competition. Vetting exercises with each brands’ marketing teams plus legal and compliance can help gauge both the strategy and tactics. Teams will know where they push and where they need to step back.

The Power of Partnership

Together, payers and providers can do more than they can individually. This is especially true in today’s healthcare landscape that often appears contentious thanks to rising costs along with prior-authorization and claims denials. Co-marketing efforts tell a different story, one of collaboration and cooperation with consumers at the heart.

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