Question: I’m turning 65 soon and my phone won’t stop ringing with people who want to sell me a Medicare plan. I’m also getting an enormous amount of mail. Why is this happening?
Answer: You aren’t the only one who has expressed frustration regarding this. I will answer your question and address how seniors can protect themselves from what I consider to be predatory sales practices as well as unscrupulous agents, who unfortunately are out there.
Anyone can buy lists of people turning 65, or any age for that matter. That being said, it’s non-compliant and unethical for any agent to call someone unsolicited to discuss most Medicare products. Unfortunately, this practice is tough to police and those who employ it are rarely reprimanded. Three years ago, I didn’t hear of this happening a much. However, it certainly appears from my conversations with clients that almost everyone who is turning 65 is going to endure this annoyance. I estimate I get an average of at least two calls on my cell per day from solicitors of all types of products. So much of our information is floating around on the internet and social media. Somewhere along the line most of us have unwittingly agreed to allow our phone numbers to be sold or distributed.
And you may have done that recently by filling out a form that in very fine print stated by doing so you give permission to be contacted by sales agents regarding Medicare products. Companies will try to impersonate Social Security or other official documents that lead you to believe they must be returned. Often, these companies will then sell that “lead” to multiple agents who race to get you on the phone.
As far getting all that mail, not only will you receive piles of it until your 65th birthday, it will be an annual Fall ritual as Medicare’s Annual Election period starts in October. Every Medicare Advantage Plan sends multiple advertisements to everyone who is older than 65 trying to convince seniors why their plan is the best. Often that’s by touting coverage for dental and vision, which on most plans amounts to what is in essence a discount on cleanings, X-rays and eyeglasses. Multiple companies heavily advertise $0 co-pays for PCP visits and Tier 1 prescriptions. One company in particular comes to mind. They brag about these $0 benefits as well as ancillary products or services which I refer to as “sizzle.” Meanwhile, the company I’m speaking of conveniently leaves out the important fact that a 6-day or longer hospitalization comes with a bill of just under $2,000 while other more serious conditions, services, and treatments could result in bills of as much as $6,700 in during the calendar year.
The vast majority of agents operate ethically. However, there are plenty out there who don’t have seniors’ best interests in mind and are only concerned with generating a commission. I’ve heard some awful stories of tactics these rogue agents have used. Not long ago, I had more than one client tell me they were called and told by the person on the other end of the phone that they were a representative of the HMO company the client was currently with and he needed to come “review her plan.” When he got to their home he was only interested in, and succeeded in one case, into getting her to switch to another company. The plan he put her on had a maximum hospital co-pay of almost $1,000 more than what she had and also exposed her to over $3,000 more in annual medical bills.
Here’s some advice. Don’t do business with anyone who doesn’t give you options from multiple Advantage Plan HMO and PPO companies, as well as Supplements. I know I go over this in almost every column, but there are huge differences between the two types of plans such as how claims are paid, access to doctors and hospitals, and how much money medical services can cost.
Don’t get caught up in the “sizzle” of free stuff like discounts on dental and vision, or gym memberships. I say this all the time. If you got a hospital bill of over $1,000, if a Skilled Nursing admission or Chemo cost as much as $6,000 or more, how free was the gym benefit? If I had to list what I consider to be the ten most important factors to consider when choosing a plan, neither dental, vision, nor a gym membership would make the cut.
Be leery of anyone who calls you unsolicited. Ask for their name, phone number, and what company or agency they’re with. Then call back and verify that information.
It might be easier to do what thousands of other Western Pennsylvanians have done. Call or sit down with one of the licensed agents at The Health Insurance Store when it’s time to choose a Medicare plan, be that when you turn 65, you retire from your job, or during Annual Election Period if you’re already on Medicare. We have 11 years of experience and knowledge. We only provide health and Medicare related insurance products, never allowing ourselves to be distracted by selling other types of insurance or financial products like many other agents. As brokers, we are appointed to provide plans from virtually every competitive Advantage, Supplement, and Part D company on the market and always provide unbiased advice which includes comparing plans on the individual market to those from the company you currently work for or retired from. Those who are offered these plans are often best to choose one through a current or previous employer. Opting out of a retirement plan can be a permanent decision. An inexperienced or unethical agent might give you bad advice that could affect you for years, even the rest of your life.