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Medicare Advantage Marketing Slammed By Senate Report

Medicare Advantage marketing practices were slammed in a report issued by the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance.  The report cites that the number of complaints about private sector marketing for Medicare Advantage (MA) plans more than doubled from 2020 to 2021.

From the Joe Namath tv ads to misleading claims about Social Security rebates, the report provides valuable insights into the current state of Medicare Advantage marketing practices. A link is provided below.

The Senate Finance Committee Majority Staff launched their inquiry in August 2022. They collected information on marketing complaints from 14 states. The published conclusion reported that beneficiaries are being inundated with aggressive marketing tactics as well as false and misleading information, including the following:

Widespread television advertisements with celebrities claim that seniors are missing out on benefits, including higher Social Security payments, in order to prompt seniors to call MA plan agent or broker hotlines.

Seniors receive mailers that look like official business from a Federal agency, yet the mailer is a marketing prompt from an MA plan or its agent or broker.

An insurance agent calls seniors 20 times a day, attempting to convince them to switch their Medicare coverage.

Twice As Many Complaints Received

CMS (Center for Medicare Services) reported it received more than twice as many complaints in 2021 compared to 2020. Stats reported: 15,497 in 2020 compared to 39,617 in 2021.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) reports there has been an increase in complaints from seniors about false and misleading advertising and marketing of MA plans.  Arizona saw a 614% increase (in complaints) from 2020 to 2021. Only one state, Colorado, reported a decrease in complaints.

The report provided the following based on responses from 14 states.

  • Mail advertisements, television advertisements, telemarketers, and robo-calls were the primary sources of complaints.
  • There were instances of deceptive marketing material, such as mailers that appeared to be official government documents or advertisements that use “Medicare” in the company’s name or branding.

Misleading Ads Promoting Social Security Benefit Increase Frequently Cited

Ads that promoted an increase in a beneficiary’s Social Security checks were a frequent source of complaints.

Medicare Advantage plans may buy down Medicare Part B premiums for their enrollees, which would result in a higher Social Security payment for the beneficiaries who choose the plans.

However, the promise of this additional benefit as a “bait and switch” tactic to lure beneficiaries into plans was often misleading.

That’s because the option to lower Part B premiums is not offered by plans in many geographic areas. Ultimately, the Senate report states, “this marketing strategy harms beneficiaries more than it helps them.”

Joe Namath Ads Cited In Senate Medicare Advantage Marketing Report

 The report provides details of what they cite as ‘another example of misleading marketing’.

The following comes from the Senate report.

The Medicare Coverage Helpline television advertisement campaign, which first aired in 2018 features former football star Joe Namath. In the ad, Mr. Namath says, “get what you deserve,” and “the benefit that adds money back to your Social Security check.”

After numerous lawsuits, the ad was recently updated to comply with current CMS regulations. However, “it still fails to mention basic information about the MA program, including that not all providers are in-network and was only recently updated to mention that benefits vary by zip code.” The Committee notes that it received five letters from states specifically calling out the Medicare Coverage Helpline commercial campaign.

The following comes directly from the report: The Joe Namath ad is sponsored by TogetherHealth, a subsidiary of Benefytt Technologies, formerly known as Health Insurance Innovations (HII). According to a 2020 investigation by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, 14,000 third-party agents and brokers across 40 states were tied to the company. The Committee found “HII’s operation and business structure incentivizes third-party agents and brokers to actively target vulnerable consumers seeking comprehensive health coverage.”

The company went on to face penalties for its misleading marketing tactics, entering into a multistate regulatory settlement agreement… to pay $3.4 million” in 2018. As part of its settlement, the company was required to more closely monitor its sales and marketing practices, and to more clearly advise consumers of restrictions on pre-existing conditions and coverage limitations of insurance products. The company was also required to improve monitoring of agent sales calls, and to closely monitor external sales practice of external third-party agents.”

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Misleading Medicare Mailers

The Committee received multiple examples of mailers made to look like official notices coming from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or the Medicare Program.

The report’ authors state, “These mailers are both misleading and serve an important role in lead generation that allow TPMOs to get around many of the marketing prohibitions currently in law” … “MA marketing prohibitions can be circumvented. This loophole allows bad actors to inundate older Americans with unsolicited calls and other aggressive marketing.”

Link to access the full report.

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About the Author

Jesse Slome

Jesse Slome
Medicare Insurance Expert
Director, American Association for Medicare Supplement Insurance

Jesse Slome is a leading Medicare insurance expert and the founder and director of the American Association for Medicare Supplement Insurance (AAMSI). Since 1998 AAMSI has served to educate consumers and support insurance professionals who offer Medicare insurance plans.