Marketers know this adults over 65 spend about a third of their waking day, almost six hours, watching television. During Medicare’s open enrollment season in the fall, they aired ad after ad inviting seniors to “find out” about their Medicare benefits by calling toll-free numbers. But seniors didn’t even have to make that call because those same agents, brokers, and other lead generators kept their phones busy with robocalls and offers of “free” services about Medicare plan options.
And if seniors could avoid the calls, they found their mailboxes filled with vague and deceptive marketing materials, flyers, packages and other advertisements for Medicare benefit options. As the tactics became more aggressive and frequent, so did the related complaints.
Unfortunately, too much of today’s Medicare Advantage marketing is inappropriate, confusing, misleading, or inaccurate, misrepresenting the choices in a program that works well for more than 28 million Americans. With its high quality and affordable offerings, Medicare Advantage has become the overwhelming choice of America’s seniors. Every day, more than 10,000 new people enter the Medicare program – prime targets for 3rd party marketing organizations, agents/brokers and on-site marketing organizations tripping to make money in this market.
Seniors have the right to choose the best health coverage for themselves without high-pressure sales tactics, inaccurate information, or misleading claims. Health plans have a duty to their consumers and taxpayers to be responsible stewards of every dollar spent on premiums. We can’t blame adults for watching TV commercials, taking phone calls and reading their mail. They deserve to receive comprehensive and accurate information about their health plan options.
To his credit, The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that effective January 1, it will conduct additional oversight of Medicare Advantage or Part D prescription drug plan television advertising.
It’s a good start, but it’s unfinished.
To ensure that Americans receive unbiased, comprehensive, actionable, and transparent information when choosing their health coverage, CMS should implement additional oversight and guidance on marketing practices; for example:
- Broker Restructuring and Administrative Compensation Agent. By standardizing and capping cancellation dollars and additional commissions, CMS can end the disproportionate financial incentives brokers receive when consumers switch plans. The fact is, most consumers choose to stay with their same health plan year after year, but merchants, agents, and brokers receive commissions when users switch plans. This is wrong. By establishing a “fair market value” standard in the Medicare marketing guidelines and eliminating allowable renewal amounts and switching commissions, CMS can eliminate this anti-consumer incentive.
- Flag agents and brokers with high unsubscribe activity. CMS can identify outliers and brokers by monitoring cases where a user disenrolls from one plan and re-enrolls in another. CMS may issue publicly available civil monetary penalties to recover administrative compensation and deter future misconduct.
- Provide transparency regarding the receipt and handling of complaints against third-party agents, brokers or marketing organizations. This transparency should include what enforcement processes are in place and what actions are being taken. CMS should lead this important work in partnership with health plans. Offloading responsibility and increasing the burden on issuers would be ineffective in addressing the root causes of misleading and inappropriate marketing practices.
Health care can be confusing enough; it doesn’t need misleading, convoluted or deceptive marketing tactics. Seniors deserve the opportunity to be informed consumers, choosing the health coverage that best suits their individual needs.
CMS can enhance the user experience in navigating the rapidly growing and diverse master’s program. By creating a marketplace that empowers consumers to choose the right health coverage for their unique and individual needs, CMS will continue to put consumers first and strengthen Medicare Advantage, which is already the program of choice for America’s seniors.
Photo: Dilok Klaisataporn, Getty Images