Watch Out for Suspicious Mailings, Calls & Marketing Strategies During Medicare’s Annual Election Period

Watch Out for Suspicious Mailings, Calls & Marketing Strategies During Medicare’s Annual Election Period

The California Department of Insurance (CDI) has put together a good list of reminders to help beneficiaries protect themselves against predatory insurance sales practices during the annual election period for Medicare Advantage plans and the Medicare Prescription Drug Program. Below is a list of tips edited from their advisory notice (PDF).

Make Sure They’re Licensed: Not all people marketing Medicare Advantage plans are insurance agents. If the person you are dealing with claims to be an insurance agent, contact the CDI at 1-800-927-HELP or select their Check License Status link to verify license status. Insurance agents are required to print their license number on all business cards, quotations, and advertisements. Also, verify that the insurance company is licensed to do business in California.

Cold Calls Prohibited: Federal regulations prohibit “cold calls” which may take the form of uninvited sales calls, door-to-door visits, unsolicited emails, telephone calls or any other type of sales contact without your express invitation.

Be Stingy with Personal Information: Never give out personal information such as your Social Security number, bank account numbers, or credit card information over the phone. Verify that the person you are dealing with has proper authority to act on behalf of the plan before you provide your Medicare number. This is a good time to seek assistance from a trusted relative, friend or advisor.

Medicare Has No Official Sales Reps: Be wary of any salesperson who says that he/she is a Medicare representative. Medicare does not send “representatives” to solicit your business.

No Marketing in Educational or Care Settings: Federal regulations prohibit the marketing of Medicare products in places where health care is delivered (such as a doctor’s office, clinic, or pharmacy counter) or at an educational event.

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch: Federal regulations prohibit offers of free meals for listening to a sales presentation or for signing up in a particular plan. Do not fall victim to buying additional insurance products during any sales or marketing presentation for a Medicare Advantage or prescription drug plan. Federal regulations prohibit this type of “cross-selling.”

Don’t Let Them Oversell You: Federal regulations prohibit selling additional insurance products during any sales or marketing presentation for a Medicare Advantage or prescription drug plan. Know that you have rights! Contact the CDI if you have any questions about an insurance offer, scheme or agent. You can also contact your Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) project through your local Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP).

Read and Understand the Plan: Be sure that the plan that you choose matches your needs and that you can continue to see your current health care providers if you wish. It may be very difficult or even impossible to “undo” your selection later.

You have rights! Contact the SMP project through your HICAP office at 1-800-434-0222 if you have any questions about an insurance offer, scheme or agent. You can also visit our website and/or contact CDI at 1-800-927-HELP (4357).

To educate others on these tips, you can use our updated 14-slide powerpoint presentation on Medicare marketing regulations.

Our blogger Karen J. Fletcher is CHA's publications consultant. She provides technical expertise, writing and research on Medicare, health disparities and other health care issues. With a Masters in Public Health from UC Berkeley, she serves in health advocacy as a trainer and consultant. See her current articles.