Home USA News Medicare Enrollees Warned of Deceptive Marketing Schemes

Medicare Enrollees Warned of Deceptive Marketing Schemes


WASHINGTON (AP) — Postal programs look like official government letterhead. Sports buses with deals for medicare sites. Television commercials with celebrities encouraging people to sign up for Medicare plans that don’t always include their current doctors.

Medicare Open Enrollment runs through Dec. 7, and health experts are warning seniors about the rise of deceptive marketing tactics that could trick some into signing up for Medicare Advantage plans that don’t cover their regular doctors or prescriptions and cause out-of-pocket costs.

“It’s a very complicated environment where people are getting information from companies that are also selling them plans,” said Gretchen Jacobson of the Commonwealth Fund, a health care think tank. “It’s important that we find a way to protect and inform consumers.”

Business is booming in the market for Medicare Advantage plans, which offer private versions of the government’s Medicare program for people age 65 and older or with disabilities. Competition for customers is fierce, with insurers turning to marketing agencies and brokers to help stand out among the dozens of plans offered through the program.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid officials are following suit. They secretly buy plans by calling numbers associated with certain Internet, television and newspaper ads placed by these marketing firms, according to an agency memo sent to insurers last month. The operation has already identified insurance agents who used inaccurate information to sell plans. In some cases, ads or agents overstated the benefits enrollees would receive and the money they would save on new plans.

A government agency can issue warning letters and, in some cases, small civil penalties for violations.

“CMS is concerned about the marketing practices of all entities, including third-party marketing organizations,” Kathryn A. Coleman, director of the Medicare Drug and Health Plan contract administration group, wrote in the letter.

The agency reported a spike in complaints last year about deceptive Medicare Advantage ads, receiving nearly 40,000, up from 15,000 in 2020. Data for this year are not yet available.

Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee last week released an investigative report showing that several states also reported an increase in complaints about deceptive marketing schemes in 2021.

In Ohio, for example, seniors received mailers that looked like federal tax forms promising bigger Social Security checks if they signed up for a new Medicare Advantage plan. State officials also said the bus was designed to look like an official Medicare bus but displayed an advertising link to an insurance broker.

Advertisements on national television also misled some customers, the committee’s report said.

One ad, featuring a former NFL football player, failed to tell viewers that plans differed by zip code or that some providers would be out of network — meaning higher out-of-pocket costs for consumers — while promising “money back on your Social Security Check “.

The committee surveyed 15 states about Medicare Advantage marketing complaints, finding that 9 of the 10 states that tracked such complaints saw an increase in reports from 2020 to 2021.

“It is unacceptable that this number of fraudsters and fraudsters are running rampant in Medicare, and I will work closely with CMS to make sure that this dramatic increase in marketing complaints is addressed,” said committee chairman Sen. Ron Wyden, Dr. Rudo.

In a memo last month, the state agency said it had reviewed thousands of complaints, finding “numerous issues.” It also requires insurance agents and brokers to record customer calls so they can be reviewed in the event of complaints. CMS said insurance companies are responsible for materials published on their behalf by contracted agents, brokers or marketing companies.

In Georgia, state officials are tracking increased marketing around the plans and say they’re getting more calls from people who are concerned about the plans they’re enrolled in, said Christine Williams of the state’s Health Insurance Assistance Program. In some cases, subscribers said they signed up for a plan that prevented them from seeing their providers.

She said people enrolling in Medicare Advantage should ask brokers or agents how the plans they sell cover doctors, prescriptions and services, including dental or vision. Each state also offers counselors to help people navigate the registration process.

“Really ask specific questions,” Williams said.

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