Here at AgingOptions, we’re committed to giving you solid, objective advice that can help you enjoy a safer, more secure, more fruitful retirement. We also know that few things are more important to your peace of mind than knowing you have the right medical plan to protect your health and that of your spouse or partner if you have one.
But sadly, not everyone shares that same commitment to honest, objective information. We’re just past the halfway point of Medicare open enrollment, and we suspect that you – like millions of seniors – are tired of being hounded on the phone and bombarded in your mailbox and inbox with breathless claims from companies offering Medicare Advantage plans.
Now, don’t get us wrong: these plans can provide excellent protection at an affordable cost, and they can be the right choice for many. But all too often, some of the firms behind these plans are guilty of marketing tactics that are exaggerated at best and fraudulent at worst. That’s the conclusion we drew from this recent article in The Fiscal Times, written by editor in chief Yuval Rosenberg. It’s an eye-opener – and it’s also a cautionary tale not to believe all the hype during open enrollment. Let’s take a look.
D-List Celebrities Lead an Aggressive Marketing Push
Writing in The Fiscal Times, Rosenberg begins, “You’ve probably seen TV ads featuring D-list celebrities pitching Medicare Advantage plans by claiming that seniors may be missing out on valuable benefits. But Medicare beneficiaries are also being inundated with other aggressive — and often deceptive — Medicare Advantage marketing tactics.” This is according to a report released recently by Senate Finance Committee Democrats.
Rosenberg provides the following examples from the report. How many have you encountered this enrollment season?
- Seniors shopping at their local grocery store who are approached by insurance agents and asked to switch their Medicare coverage or MA plan.
- Seniors being told by insurance agents that their doctors are covered by a new plan, only to find out later that their doctor is not in network – and they’re stuck paying out-of-pocket for a visit.
- Seniors receiving marketing mailers designed to misleadingly look like official communication from a federal agency such as the Internal Revenue Service, Social Security Administration or Medicare.
- Seniors getting flooded with as many as 20 calls a day from an insurance agent trying to convince them to switch their Medicare coverage.
Deceptive Practices are Widespread
Sadly, according to the report and based on information from 14 states, these marketing practices are fairly widespread and common, not merely isolated events. Rosenberg writes, “[The report] said that five states had shared examples of insurance brokers targeting beneficiaries with cognitive impairment and six states provided examples of people being signed up for Medicare Advantage plans without knowing it.”
Consumer backlash is also on the rise. “[The report] also noted that the number of beneficiary complaints about Medicare Advantage marketing received by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) more than doubled from 2020 to 2021,” says the article.
Thankfully, these deceptive practices are being noticed. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), chair of the Finance Committee, said in a statement, “It is unacceptable for this magnitude of fraudsters and scam artists to be running amok in Medicare.” The Senator promised to “be working closely with CMS to ensure this dramatic increase in marketing complaints is addressed. Medicare Advantage offers valuable plan options and extra benefits to many seniors but it is critical to stop any tactics or actors that harm seniors or undermine their confidence in the program.”
Medicare Advantage Insures Nearly Half of Beneficiaries
Rosenberg explains, “Under Medicare Advantage, sometimes called Medicare Part C, the government pays private insurers to cover health benefits for seniors. Such plans have grown in popularity and will soon cover more than half of Medicare enrollees. They’re also extremely lucrative for insurers — but as The New York Times reported recently , most large insurers in the program have been accused of fraud.” (Please note that accessing the New York Times article may require a subscription.)
The reason for the aggressive marketing is simple: profit. “For insurers that already dominate health care for workers, the [Medicare Advantage] program is strikingly lucrative,” the New York Times article reports: “ A study from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a research group unaffiliated with the insurer Kaiser, found the companies typically earn twice as much gross profit from their Medicare Advantage plans as from other types of insurance.”
Tricia Neuman, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told the New York Times, “Because it’s such a profitable line of business, they have an incentive to do more marketing. And they have more money to do marketing, which increases revenue.”
Caveat Emptor: Seniors Warned to Exercise Caution, Get the Facts
Open enrollment for 2023 Medicare plans is still ongoing until December 7 th. Rosenberg writes, “Seniors are advised to be on the lookout for potential scams and exercise caution if calling a number advertised on television or clicking on a sign-up link. The report says seniors can also call 1-800-MEDICARE for help if they think they’ve been enrolled in a plan that’s not right for them.”
But aside from recognizing if you’ve been scammed or manipulated, the Senate has its eye on making more systemic changes to cut down on these scams, “including strengthening requirements that were loosened under the Trump administration, monitoring disenrollment patterns and then holding bad actors accountable, implementing stronger rules for Medicare marketing, and promoting legitimate sources of information.”
And what about those D-list celebrities and their ads? “Medicare has told [insurance] plans it will begin policing marketing materials more closely,” the Times reports. “Starting next open enrollment, Medicare will review and approve television advertisements before they air to make sure celebrities accurately describe the plans’ benefits.” Seems like it’s a bit late – but a good move nonetheless.
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(originally reported at www.thefiscaltimes.com)