The Truth About Medicare Ads: Medicare Never Advertises
Our society is being brainwashed by the relentless Medicare ads on TV. I have never seen anything like it.
My name is Julie Graham, and I am the president and co-founder of Health Insurance and Retirement Advocates, Inc. HIRA is a boutique agency that specializes in Medicare, located in the heart of historic Mount Dora, Florida. I have been an independent agent for the past 15 years. I also have 30 years of experience as a medical reimbursement professional, meaning that I used to work with medical providers to get them paid by insurance companies, based on their contracts. I also witnessed how the providers managed their patients, based on their policies.
For me, being an agent is the perfect job. I get to take my decades of knowledge and focus my efforts on those who need it the most: the patient, the member, you.
"New" Medicare Benefits
During the last Annual Enrollment Period, I was shocked at the number of times I answered the phone and was asked this exact question: “Julie, am I missing out on any of the new Medicare benefits that I’m entitled to?”
Exactly that verbiage, every single time.
Now, the problem isn’t with the asking of a question. My clients know that I’m available to answer any question that they may have. The problem is that these ads make people believe there are new benefits to ask about: there aren’t any “new” Medicare benefits.
Insurance agents know this. The clients we serve, and the general population, do not. Because these ads run on a constant, mind-numbing loop, and they are vague and misleading, it’s no wonder most people are confused. This should not be allowed to happen.
I checked in with several other agents, spread over a wide geographic area, and they all confirmed that 3-4 times a day, they fielded the exact same question.
These ads that play over and over, all year long, with quasi-famous people touting these great, “newly approved” Medicare benefits that you are entitled to and may be missing out on—they are nothing more than ADVERTISEMENTS!
They are NOT Public Service Announcements. Simply put: they are ads meant to instill fear of missing out (FOMO) and to prompt you to pick up the phone and call.
Who You Gonna Call?
Let’s talk about that call. Whom exactly are they asking you to call? You are simply calling a large insurance agency, with tele sales agents whose only purpose is to enroll you into a different Medicare Advantage plan that may or may not fit your needs. They know nothing about you, and they certainly will not be there in the future when you have a problem and need assistance from the person who sold you the product.
In my opinion, the worst offender is the Medicare Coverage Helpline. According to Truthinadvertising.org, Medicare Coverage Helpline—which in no way is affiliated with the government—continues to mislead consumers on the benefits it can offer Medicare recipient. Only now, it has the help of New York Jets legend Joe Namath, and others, as a paid spokesperson.
The Medicare Coverage Helpline is a private for-profit lead generation campaign and does not offer insurance and is not an insurance agency or broker. The contact information you provide to them is then sold to multiple licensed insurance agents who will contact you about Medicare Advantage Plans. How on earth is this helpful?
Medicare Does Not Advertise
Please understand: Medicare DOES NOT ADVERTISE. Medicare will never call you about your insurance. Did you know it’s actually illegal to cold call a Medicare beneficiary? Next time you get an unwanted call from someone wanting to advise you on your Medicare, ask where they got your number. I can almost guarantee they’ll hang up.
Many ads, as well as mailings, look like they come from an official governmental source. According to Section 1140 of the Social Security Act, it’s forbidden to use the words or symbols including “Medicare,” “Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services,” “Department of Health and Human Services,” or “Health & Human Services” in a way that would indicate the approval, endorsement, or authorization of Medicare or any other government agency. This explains why there are two paragraphs of teeny tiny disclaimers at the bottom of the screen. Again, this shouldn’t be allowed to happen.
As far as websites, if the web address does not end in .GOV, then it is NOT a governmental site. Even if it looks official, and you think you are interacting with a legitimate governmental website, double-check that the web address contains .GOV
It is worth repeating: MEDICARE DOES NOT ADVERTISE.
Let’s clear this up – there are no “newly approved Medicare benefits,” like vision, hearing and dental. Original Medicare, as of April 2022, does not currently cover those services. You absolutely can obtain some coverage for those services; they are only available through Medicare Advantage plans or for purchase on a stand-alone basis.
Determining if a Medicare Advantage plan is right for you is a multi-faceted question. Are your doctors and hospitals in network? Do you need referrals? What happens when you travel? Are your medications covered? What is your annual out of pocket maximum?
Once these questions have been addressed, you can then see if the policy provides you with any additional coverage for things like vision, hearing, dental, over-the-counter items, gym memberships, etc.
There are also policies that will give you money back every month in your Social Security check. These are called rebate or give-back plans. They will be HMOs, typically with relatively small networks of providers. You are not eligible to enroll if you are not drawing Social Security yet, or if you qualify for state benefits that cover the Part B premium.
Different Medicare Advantage plans are available in different geographic areas, which is the reason advertisements will say “check your zip code.” That has always been true and is not new.
For individuals who have already purchased a Medicare Supplement (Medigap) policy, these ads have nothing to do with you. You would have to leave your current coverage and enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan and abide by the rules of that new coverage. This is a conversation best had with a local agent. In the meantime, check to see if your Supplement policy perhaps offers discounts for the above-mentioned services. The Supplements will not pay anything, but you may get lower pricing by using certain providers.
Additionally, many of the ads are geared towards folks who are Dual Eligible – meaning that they have Medicare as well as full state Medicaid. These policies do provide a wide array of extra services meant to assist the lower income population.
How Do You Pick the Right Plan?
For the average citizen, picking the right coverage to go with your Medicare is an important decision. Health and money are tied up in this one product. I am willing to bet that if I asked you to list the 5 things that are most important to you then health and money make the list every single time.
Please do not focus first and foremost on the “perks” that any one policy provides. This is your HEALTH INSURANCE, meant to provide you with easy and affordable access to care, protection from catastrophic financial loss due to severe illness or accident, and coverage for the prescription medications you take. Notice that these advertisements say absolutely nothing about these things? Hmmmmm……..
Using a Local Agent vs. a "Helpline"
This is serious, complicated business. Anyone shopping for Medicare insurance deserves respect and honest information. Please don’t get your information only from the TV or the impersonal toll-free numbers and various websites.
Local agents are always available to discuss any insurance product that interests you. They may have an office you can visit, and most will also come directly to your home. Many people do not realize that.
So, whether you are brand new to Medicare and feel totally lost or you know exactly which policy you want and could easily sign yourself up, using a local agent supports your community by creating a job, provides you with a valuable resource and costs you absolutely nothing except a bit of your time.
Finding the right agent is key. You have to feel a level of trust. Face-to-face meetings are the best way for you to gauge that trust, and they are what turns you from a faceless applicant into an actual person.
I will close with this: all insurance companies and all agents need to advertise. It is how you know who we are, what we do and how to reach us. The problem I have is with ads that are misleading and vague, using verbiage is used out of context—all to target the most vulnerable of our population in an onslaught of constant, repetitive messages that become ingrained in our minds. For me, that is a step too far.
MEDICARE NEVER ADVERTISES. Not on TV, not in the mail, not via phone, not via email, not via any social networks. Nowhere. MEDICARE DOES NOT ADVERTISE. Knowing this to be true, if you make your decisions accordingly, then I have accomplished my goal.
Thank you for taking the time to listen to one independent agent’s perspective. I wish you all health and happiness!
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