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Medicare's open enrollment period is here. So is a barrage of confusing ads

Seniors participating in Medicare's 2022 open enrollment period were getting confused and frustrated by a high number of ads from health insurers and brokers, according to the Wesleyan Media Project.
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Seniors participating in Medicare's 2023 open enrollment period were getting confused and frustrated by a high number of ads from health insurers and brokers, according to the Wesleyan Media Project.

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Medicare’s open enrollment period is here and the old adage for consumers still rings true: buyer beware.

Advertisements from health insurers and brokers often advertised lower costs and extra benefits, some of which are already available to seniors, according to a new study from the Wesleyan Media Project examining ads during the 2022 open enrollment period.

Researchers also found broker ads pitching privately-run phone lines and other tactics focused on boosting Medicare enrollment, which extends this year through Dec. 7.

For some seniors the yearly advertising blitz is all too much.

“Too many ads, too many phone calls,” said Deborah Bax, 74, of Waterford. “I think we need one head office that takes care of everything, and doesn't nag at people to change their plan.”

Before switching plans, seniors need to consider if their current health care providers will be covered under the new plan, said Breeze Floyd of the Wesleyan Media Project.

That's because not all benefits mentioned in television advertisements are always offered in a person’s zip code, Floyd said.

Regular viewers of talk shows, reality court shows and game shows were exposed to hundreds of ads over the period when ads for open enrollment were permitted according to KFF and the Wesleyan Media Project in September 2023.
KFF and Wesleyan Media Project
Regular viewers of talk shows, reality court shows and game shows were exposed to hundreds of ads over the period when ads for open enrollment were permitted according to KFF and the Wesleyan Media Project in September 2023.

“Sometimes seniors, they make a change in their plan, and then when they go to see their doctor, they realize that suddenly their doctor is now an out of network provider, which comes with increased costs,” Floyd said.

The ads can also promise a wide array of benefits, but seniors may already be eligible for those benefits, said Darren Hotton of the National Council on Aging.

Hotten recommends people considering changes to Medicare plans do a Benefits Checkup. There are also benefit enrollment centers in every state. Hotten said people can also visit a local Medicare expert to help with applications for a plan change.

“They'll tell you if you're eligible for food assistance, for heat assistance, and all those other things,” Hotten said. “Some of these Medicare Advantage plans will actually do the extra work for you too, if they're aware of your income.”

More than a quarter of all Medicare ads by brokers and insurers showed what looked like government-issued Medicare cards, a trend that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has also flagged as potentially misleading.

According to health-policy nonprofit KFF, federal health officials reported a steep rise in beneficiary complaints related to the marketing of Medicare Advantage and Part D by brokers and other third-party entities.

Of the 643,852 airings of Medicare ads that ran during the nine-week advertising period for open enrollment for coverage for 2023, 86% promoted Medicare Advantage.

Sujata Srinivasan is Connecticut Public Radio’s senior health reporter. Prior to that, she was a senior producer for Where We Live, a newsroom editor, and from 2010-2014, a business reporter for the station.
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