Beware Of Deceptive Advertising During Medicare Open Enrollment

Now is that time of year, between October 15 and December 7 when the bombardment of Medicare Advantage plan ads happens. They seem to be relentless in all media outlets. “Buy this! It’s better!” is a constant refrain. But there is deception in some advertising and the Federal government wants you to know what the brokers of these plans can and can’t legally do.

The National Council on Aging has a helpful and concise summary of what is off limits in broker efforts to sell you their product. Quoting from their site, they make it clear that the sales representative is not allowed to:

  • Start a discussion about other insurance products, like life insurance annuities, if your meeting was scheduled to discuss Medicare Part C or Part D.
  • Set their own time limits for you to sign up for a plan. You have until Dec. 7 to enroll, and there are no extra benefits for signing up early.
  • Threaten to take away your benefits if you do not sign up for their plan.
  • Offer you gifts if you do agree to sign up for their plan.
  • Suggest that Medicare endorses or prefers their plan.
  • Discuss Medicare products you did not ask to talk about when you filled out a scope of appointment form.

The apparent effort behind the advertising is to get you to buy a different Medicare Advantage plan than what you, or your aging parents have, whether it is actually better or not. The inducements include the representation of “free” benefits only under a certain plan, and that you’ll be missing out if you don’t get it.

Medicare Advantage plans include everything traditional Medicare covers, some of what certain Medicare supplemental insurance covers and a changing list of benefits that are generally not the same year over year. It can be very confusing for aging parents, let alone their adult children and other family to know what is a better plan for an elder and what is not. Medication coverage is a typical source of confusion for consumers. Some plans cover a few things other supplemental plans don’t but the next year, that same plan could drop coverage for the very same medication your aging parent needs. That could result in more out of pocket costs. Comparing plans can be overwhelming.

How To Get Help Deciding

One way to get reliable help comparing Medicare plans is by contacting your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). These programs are located in all U.S. states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Find your local SHIP here.

As we’re in the aging field here at, the question of whether a person should change plans comes up with our clients, particularly when an elder is being discharged from a hospital or rehab facility. The family’s arguments with the representative from the elder’s Medicare Advantage Plan are a recurring problem. “I thought that was covered!” is what clients report when something they want is denied.

A very experienced colleague who sells insurance of various kinds thinks that overall, traditional Medicare is better than any Advantage plan. Some share her opinion. Those selling Medicare Advantage plans do not. We say, get your own advice, as every person’s healthcare needs are unique.

The Takeaways:

  1. Don’t be fooled by the advertising that one thing is better than another. Get vetted help (See NCOA above) comparing plans if you want to change.
  2. Go to a reliable source for your information. The sales person is not likely to be an unbiased source of help in comparing plans.
  3. The Federal government imposed restrictions, mentioned above, on what brokers of these products can and can’t do. According to the government reporting on this, the restrictions became necessary in the face of inaccurate and even deceptive sales practices in the industry.

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