For many transactional First-Class mailers, managing regulatory compliance around notification documents can be a huge task. When consulting with property and casualty insurers, the discussion is almost inevitably centered on state-regulated mandates for cancellation and non-renewal notices. Healthcare providers have similar challenges related to notices for the approval of services. Keeping up with these industry laws — not to mention the different postal options available for compliance — can be brutal. The following are just a few examples where mailers must have a clear understanding of state and federal requirements:
- Insurance – Property and casualty for cancellation and non-renewal notices
- Worker’s Compensation
- Healthcare – Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) coverage, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requirements, Medicaid and Medicare for approval or denial of services
- Banking – Financial documents
- Legal – Class-Action lawsuits
Many of the state-level statutes for compliance are fairly ambiguous, specifying only that First-Class Mail be used for certain notifications. Other states are more specific regarding the method to prove that the mail was presented to the post office. A Certificate of Mailing and Certified Mail have been the traditional default solutions to meet these requirements. However, while risk avoidance is still the primary goal for most compliance mailers, many are also striving to meet organizational goals for additional reporting or seeking to maintain their own environment of accountability to their clients.
An Unprecedented Level of Visibility
Informed Visibility is the updated platform for tracking letters and flats with the Intelligent Mail barcode and is being adapted by many compliance mailers. With this solution, actual scan events are captured as the mail is being processed for delivery. There are now over 30 potential attributes available with each event, including a time/date stamp, the location where the scan occurred, the operation being performed, machine identification, etc. All of these factors are potentially useful in confirming that the mail is in USPS custody.
Because Informed Visibility is able to provision this data in almost real time, the mailer now has an unprecedented level of visibility. So, not only can the first scan be utilized as proof of mail, but subsequent scans provide insight to projected in-home dates. The subscription itself is free, which compares favorably to the cost of the more traditional proof of mail options.
The following are the most common methods for meeting the Proof of Mail objective:
- Certificate of Mailing – Provides evidence that mail has been presented to the USPS for mailing. It does not provide a record of delivery.
- Certified Mail – USPS maintains a record of delivery (which includes the recipient’s signature).
- Informed Visibility – The Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) is scanned as mail is processed for delivery, and scan data is provisioned to the subscriber.
Proof of mail must satisfy the requirement of the state and federal laws and be able to hold up under legal scrutiny. In determining whether Informed Visibility or another USPS option is a good fit, the mailer should answer the following questions:
- What is the compliance requirement?
- Is the method for “proof of mail” clearly defined by a federal or state mandate?
- What size is the mail piece?
- How will the mail be presented to the USPS? Will it be dropped locally, picked up by a courier, or processed through a presort vendor?
If Informed Visibility is being considered, then the size of the mail piece should be taken into consideration. While letter-size mail will commonly produce scans of 95% and higher, flat-size mail is not always placed on automation equipment, and scan rates may be much lower. Mailers should be prepared to deal with exceptions, regardless of mail size, and compare piece level tracking results to the entire mail list. Pieces with missing scans should be identified and arrangements made to ensure delivery. The remedy may be to re-print and re-mail the piece again, or to resort to a different method where a record of delivery would be available. From a cost perspective, treating a few pieces to expedited delivery is almost always preferable to absorbing the cost of Certified Mail 100% of the time.
With Informed Visibility, how and where the mail is presented to the USPS can impact the availability of the first scan. When mail is dropped at a local postal facility, it is typically taken out of the tray and scanned at the local SCF (Sectional Center Facility). This allows the USPS to determine if the piece will be delivered locally or routed via postal transportation to its destination. If securing the first scan at the earliest possible time is the goal, then dropping at the local facility will usually produce an overnight scan event.
However, many First-Class mailers utilize presort vendors who commingle their mail with other mail in order to receive a discount on postage. This commingled mail is most likely presented to the USPS already presorted to a ZIP Code level that allows the USPS to bypass scanning and place it directly onto transportation. In this case, the first USPS scan event may not occur until the mail has reached the destination postal facility. If the economic benefits of using a presort vendor are desired, then the mail owner may want to allow a few extra days to receive the first scan back from the USPS.
From the time it was introduced in 2006, one of the greatest benefits of the IMb has been the ability to uniquely identify a single piece of mail via the six- or nine-digit serial number. For compliance mailers, each individual envelope should bear a unique IMb with a sequentially assigned serial number, even if two pieces are being mailed to the same address. Files or reports generated from tracking results should associate the barcodes used on each mail piece with a meaningful recipient level reference, like a policy number, an invoice number, etc. This information should be archived and be easily accessible for audit purposes.
Best Practices for Using Informed Visibility in a Compliance Environment
- Create timelines that allow you to manage and react to tracking results
- Set up a system to receive scan results, associate IMb numbers to meaningful reference data (like a policy number, etc.), and reconcile any missing data on a daily basis.
- Do not recycle barcode serial numbers until you have expired the range available for your Mailer ID (minimum of 45 days, but the longer the better).
- Archive the scan results per state or federal law requirement and have data easily accessible for audit.
If the method for meeting compliance is clearly spelled out, then the mailer must follow those guidelines. If you’d like to consider using Informed Visibility and are unsure if it will be allowed, always get validation from a compliance officer, an examiner (for insurance), or someone connected with the office. Additional information on Informed Visibility can be accessed at
Judy Kalus is TMM Product Specialist, Pitney Bowes. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615.873.4266.
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