WASHINGTON (AP) — Mailers designed to look like official government forms. Buses with scam sites for Medicare websites. Celebrity TV commercials encouraging people to sign up for Medicare plans that don’t always include their current doctor.
With Medicare’s open enrollment through Dec. 7, health experts are warning older adults of a rise in deceptive marketing tactics that could lead some to sign up for Medicare Advantage plans that don’t cover their regular doctors or prescriptions and drive them off the market. bag cost.
“It’s a very complicated environment where people get information from companies that also sell their plans,” said Gretchen Jacobson of the Commonwealth Fund, a healthcare think tank. “It’s important that we find a way to protect and inform consumers.”
Business is booming in the Medicare Advantage plan market, which offers 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 in an effort to stand out from dozens of plans offered through the program.
Staff at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are on track. They secretly search for plans by calling the numbers associated with some of the online, TV and newspaper ads posted by these marketing agencies, according to a memo from the agency sent to insurers last month. The operation has already surfaced insurance agents using misinformation to sell plans. In some cases, ads or agents have overestimated the benefits enrollees would get and the money they would save in the new plans.
The government agency, known as CMS, may issue warning letters and, in some cases, small civil fines for violations.
“CMS is concerned about the marketing practices of all entities, including outside marketing organizations,” Kathryn A. Coleman, director of the agency’s Medicare Drug and Health Plan Contract Administration Group, wrote in the letter.
The agency reported a spike in complaints about misleading Medicare Advantage ads last year, receiving nearly 40,000 compared to 15,000 in 2020. Data for this year is not yet available.
Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee released a research report last week showing that several states also reported an increase in complaints about deceptive marketing programs in 2021.
In Ohio, for example, older adults received mailers resembling federal government tax forms with promises of greater Social Security checks if they signed up for a new Medicare Advantage plan. State officials also reported that a bus was designed to look like an official Medicare bus, but showed an ad link to an insurance broker.
National TV ads have also misled some customers, the committee’s report shows.
One ad, featuring a former NFL football player, didn’t tell viewers that plans vary by zip code or that some carriers won’t be in the network — meaning higher out-of-pocket costs for consumers — while promising to “add money to your Social Security check.” .”
The committee surveyed 15 states about Medicare Advantage marketing complaints and found that 9 out of 10 states that tracked such complaints saw an increase in reports from 2020 to 2021.
“It is unacceptable that this volume of fraudsters and scammers are running amok in Medicare and I will work closely with CMS to ensure this dramatic increase in marketing complaints is addressed,” said the committee chair, Senator Ron Wyden, D-Erts.
In last month’s memo, the government agency said it had reviewed thousands of complaints and found “countless problems”. It also requires insurance agents and brokers to record enrollment conversations with customers so that they can be reviewed if complaints are made. CMS said insurance companies are responsible for material published on their behalf by agents, brokers or marketing companies they contract with.
In Georgia, state officials are monitoring an increase in marketing around the plans and say they’re getting more calls from people concerned about the plans they’ve signed up for, said Christine Williams of the State Health Insurance Assistance Program. In some cases, callers have said they signed up for a plan that prevented them from seeing their carriers.
She said people who enroll in Medicare Advantage should ask brokers or agents how doctors, prescriptions and services, including dental or eye care, are covered by the plans they sell. Each state also offers counselors to help people through the enrollment process.
“Ask really specific questions,” Williams said.