Oral Health America: Seniors’ Teeth Count, Too
Advancing age puts many Americans at risk of oral health conditions, including root decay, gum disease and tooth loss. Yet Medicare does not include coverage for dental health care in the standard benefits for older adults. Oral Health America (OHA) wants change that.
In 2016, OHA tasked Marketing for Change with developing a strategy for consumer outreach and partner buy-in. A deep dive into existing research – looking at older adults’ perspectives of dental insurance and oral health; their life priorities and concerns; and the complicated process and competitive landscape of Medicare enrollment – revealed that ultimately people don’t really care about insurance, especially dental insurance; what they care about is their teeth and their vitality. An argument focused on the financial and health importance of insuring their teeth would be unlikely to be heard. Instead, we decided to make the case that by excluding dental coverage from Medicare, the government was making a judgment about what it means to be on Medicare. Translation: “The government doesn’t think Medicare needs to include dental coverage because Medicare means you’re old and old people wear dentures.” If we wanted a message and a framework to engage the disengaged, we needed to give them something to yell about. Armed with this insight, we began developing draft creative designed to resonate with the values and needs states of older adults. We then tested these messages with a series of intercept interviews with our target audience. The IDIs prompted further refinements, and we are currently planning a national survey to test our approach.
The campaign transformed the Medicare dental benefit cause from a low-awareness, low-resonance issue to a touchstone topic that constituents use to measure whether their lawmaker is listening and responding to their needs. Penetration into the 60+ market ranged from 22% in East Tennessee to a third in Central & West Michigan and Iowa statewide with at least 450,000 people being exposed to the ads. Almost 10,000 toothbrushes were collected and delivered to congressional undecided candidates. In Iowa, staff for undecided Rep. David Young said they’d “heard a lot about this recently and are taking input” noting that “there’s a groundswell for it.” Renee Hoyos, a candidate for the Tennessee 2nd, signed her own toothbrush on camera at a free dental clinic, pledging to support the policy if elected. Early in 2019, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) introduced the Medicare Dental Benefit Act of 2019, after reading Oral Health America’s white paper on the policy change.