Medicare Guide 2023: Complaints of misleading Medicare Advantage marketing mount; How to Protect Yourself – OregonLive | Mobiz World

You are the TV stars of a bygone era, a heroic quarterback, a spaceship captain and a sitcom sensation.

Joe Namath, William Shatner and Jimmie JJ Walker have been back on TV screens in recent years, working as pitchmen and encouraging older viewers to call to see if they’re eligible for additional Medicare benefits and higher Social Security payments.

Consumer advocates say the commercials are grossly misleading and make promises that the company behind them often can’t keep. The ads — and similar marketing pitches — coincided with a surge in complaints about Medicare Advantage’s marketing, which rose 165% over the past year.

Medicare Advantage plans provide health coverage through a private insurer rather than the government, bundle preventive care, hospitalization, and usually include prescription drug benefits. Federal agencies enacted new marketing rules this year aimed at cracking down on misleading claims by requiring advertisers to disclose that certain Medicare Advantage plans may not be available in all locations and requiring them to record certain sales pitches.

Medicare beneficiary advocates and members of Congress say more is needed. They accuse insurance companies backed by private equity funds of trying to win Medicare Advantage customers with hype instead of better insurance plans.

“Insurance companies are always trying to find new ways to trick seniors into buying their product,” said US Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon.

Deceptive television advertising is just one of many risks Medicare beneficiaries face this time of year. There’s a separate threat from would-be scammers trying to take advantage of the December 7 open registration deadline to trick consumers into signing up for services that could prove expensive or steal their Medicare number.

“Medicare fraud is extremely common because, unfortunately, it’s pretty easy to pull off,” warns Kathy Stokes, director of fraud prevention at AARP.

Scammers can use stolen Medicare numbers to submit bogus bills, or they can trick beneficiaries into ordering expensive equipment that doesn’t meet their needs and may not be fully covered by their plans.

Therefore, Stokes and other consumer advocates encourage Medicare beneficiaries to be extremely careful when responding to mailers and advertisements they see on TV and online, and never to share Medicare numbers with anyone other than their healthcare provider or insurance company.

“They are so good at making their pitch look like it came from Medicare or a legitimate Medicare affiliate,” Stokes said.

If you think you shared your Medicare number with someone you shouldn’t have or were tricked into signing up for a Medicare Advantage plan you didn’t really want, notify Medicare immediately.

And if you have questions about whether a plan is legitimate or need help figuring out what’s legit and what’s a scam, contact your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) for assistance. (It’s called SHIBA in Oregon.)

“They can refer you to someone who can actually help you,” Stokes said.

Tigard Medicare insurance broker Lisa Lettenmaier said she’s always had calls about the commercials clients see on TV, but she said last year was particularly egregious.

“I’ve spent a lot of time having that same conversation with my clients and saying, ‘Yeah, it’s too good to be true,'” Lettenmaier said.

Some TV spots made blanket promises that really only apply to a small subset of beneficiaries, she said. Other customers received mailings meant to look official, containing urgent phrases like “second notice” and “final notice,” hoping to lure beneficiaries. According to Lettenmaier, when seniors respond by asking for more information, marketers interpret this as an invitation to keep urging them to sign up for their plans.

“If you get cold calling, when you get mailings, just pay close attention to what it is,” she said.

Last summer, Wyden sent a letter to state insurance agencies across the country seeking data on false or misleading advertising. It’s information the senator wants to use to urge federal regulators to implement stronger consumer protection measures.

“Bad actors always find ways to milk the program and make a quick buck off the weak,” Wyden said. “So I believe the data will corroborate this issue of misleading marketing and these numbers showing that the number of complaints is increasing are correct.”

The goal, Wyden said, is to create a marketplace for Medicare Advantage that rewards insurance companies that are honest with consumers and offer plans that offer real value.

“If you can establish a good reputation for yourself in the senior community, it’s very beneficial to you economically. So there are plans that try to do good and do good,” Wyden said. “But I think bad actors always need to be weeded out.”

Tips for avoiding Medicare scams

Advice from Medicare, the Oregon Department of Human Services, and AARP.

  • Protect your Medicare number and Medicare card. Only share them with your healthcare provider or Medicare Advantage plan. You don’t have to provide your Medicare number to get information about plans.
  • Watch out for advertisements for free services or products in exchange for your Medicare number and cold calls from people claiming to be on Medicare who want your number.
  • Review your Medicare Summary Notice to ensure the health claims listed are legitimate.
  • If you’re looking for a plan based on a TV ad or mailer, check the Medicare Plan Finder on Medicare.gov to make sure it’s a legitimate plan.
  • Report suspected fraud to Medicare at 800-633-4227 or 877-772-3379 for Medicare Part D prescription drug issues.
  • Contact your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) for help navigating legitimate Medicare Advantage plans.
  • Contact AARP’s Fraud Watch Network at 877-908-3360 if you think you have been the victim of a scam or if you need help determining if an offer is legitimate.

– Mike Rogoway | mrogoway@oregonian.com

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