5 Medicare Marketing Tactics That Are Red Flags

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The Medicare open enrollment period is here — it always runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 — and that means the marketing floodgates are open.

Those aged 65 or older should brace themselves for a wave of mailings, phone calls and emails touting various Medicare policies. Insurers and insurance brokers and agents are hawking Medicare Advantage plans (also known as Medicare Part C), stand-alone Part D plans for prescription drugs and Medigap policies that provide supplemental coverage.

That’s because all three are types of private plans offered by insurance companies, not to be confused with the traditional Medicare coverage offered directly by the federal government’s Medicare program.

Unfortunately, some companies seem to cross the line into misleading or unethical territory. The health care advocacy group the Commonwealth Fund surveyed 2,001 seniors near the end of the 2022 Medicare open enrollment period and found many of them encountered tactics that were problematic or downright fraudulent.

If you run into the following red flags, hang up the phone and look for a Medicare plan elsewhere.

Asking for your Medicare or Social Security number upfront

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Survey question: “Thinking about the Medicare phone calls you’ve received, were you asked for your Medicare number or Social Security number before you were given plan details?”

Respondents who said yes: 10%

Requesting a Social Security number upfront is often a clear sign of a Medicare scam, and you should never provide sensitive information to unsolicited callers or texters. Insurers don’t need this information to provide details about their plan coverage. If the person contacting you insists, don’t feel bad about hanging up or blocking their number.

Pressure to join or switch to a plan

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Survey question: “Have you ever felt pressured to switch plans or pressured to sign up for a plan by an insurance broker or agent?”

Respondents who said yes: 10%

No one wants to be without health insurance coverage, and some unethical representatives might use that fear to push seniors to enroll in a plan. For instance, they may say a person risks losing coverage if they don’t sign up right away. However, those sorts of statements are not allowed under Medicare rules.

Offering a special discount for a limited time

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Survey question: “Thinking about the Medicare advertisements you’ve seen or Medicare phone calls you’ve received, have they ever told you that you receive a special discount if you sign up right away, or within a certain time frame?”

Respondents who said yes: 19%

Limited-time offers such as special discounts could be considered a form of pressure to encourage seniors to sign up, and the Commonwealth Fund says they violate federal rules. The government also prohibits companies or representatives from offering cash or free meals while trying to sell you a plan.

Someone from ‘Medicare’ promoting specific plans

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Survey question: “Within the past 12 months, have you received a call or email from Medicare promoting specific insurance plans?”

Respondents who said yes: 51%

Plan representatives who give the impression they are calling from Medicare are misleading seniors, while those who outright say they are from Medicare are almost certainly scammers. The Federal Communications Commission reminds people that the federal government’s Medicare program “does not call you uninvited and ask you for personal or private information.”

Unsolicited calls from plans or plan reps

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Survey question: “Within the past 12 months, have you received an unsolicited call or email from a Medicare plan or plan representative, other than your own?”

Respondents who said yes: 74%

Receiving unsolicited calls about Medicare plans might seem like par for the course during open enrollment, but it is actually against government rules. Medicare only allows plans to call you if you are already a plan member or have given your permission for them to call.

How to file a complaint about Medicare marketing

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If you receive an unsolicited call or email or encounter a company engaged in shady tactics, you can report them to the federal government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. While 22% of survey respondents told the Commonwealth Fund that they weren’t sure they could figure out how to do that, it’s a relatively easy process.

To report bad practices related to Medicare Advantage and drug plans, you have three options:

  • Call Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227)
  • Call the Investigations Medicare Drug Integrity Contractor (I-MEDIC) at 1-877-7SAFERX (1-877-772-3379)
  • Send a letter to I-MEDIC at Qlarant, 28464 Marlboro Avenue, Easton, MD 21601, Attn: I-MEDIC

When you contact Medicare, be ready to provide your name and Medicare number, the name of the company in question — or any other identifying information — and the questionable marketing practice that was used.

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