As the annual Medicare Open Enrollment Period (OEP) swings into action, millions of Medicare beneficiaries across the United States are facing a barrage of marketing tactics aimed at persuading them to switch plans. Lasting from October 15 to December 7 each year, OEP allows Medicare beneficiaries to review and choose the Medicare plans that best suit their needs. This includes beneficiaries enrolled in Original Medicare who can explore and change their prescription drug plans (Part D) and Medigap plans.
The Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) is on a mission to ensure that everyone on Medicare is well-informed about the marketing frenzy that unfolds during OEP. Marketing efforts encompass a multitude of channels, from television and social media ads to radio spots and a deluge of mailings. The aim is to catch beneficiaries’ attention and potentially steer them toward a particular plan. However, caution is advised.
“To get your attention, ads may mislead you into thinking one plan is better for you than another. It’s important to understand what agents aren’t allowed to do so you’ll be prepared if someone tries to contact you this OEP,” warns Nicole Liebau, Senior Medicare Patrol Resource Center Director.
Key points to bear in mind include the fact that agents cannot set their own deadlines for enrollment. Beneficiaries have until December 7 to make their choices, with the new plan coming into effect on January 1. There are no extra incentives for signing up early.
Furthermore, agents are prohibited from making threats to withdraw benefits if you do not enroll in their plan. Offering gifts as an inducement for signing up is also against the rules. It’s essential to recognize that no plan or agency can claim an endorsement from Medicare, and they cannot assert they are affiliated with or sent by Medicare, Social Security, or Medicaid.
Another no-go for agents is discussing Medicare products or other insurance types, such as life insurance, without prior consent from the beneficiary through the Scope of Appointment form. They cannot contact you without any prior relationship, and they are not allowed to leave promotional materials like flyers or door hangers without your prior consent.
Importantly, agents should not mislead you regarding prescription coverage or services. Additionally, it’s vital to understand that you cannot maintain both a Medigap plan (supplemental insurance) and a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan concurrently.
With a plethora of choices and information to sift through, comparing plans and determining the best fit for one’s needs can be overwhelming. The good news is that free and unbiased assistance is available for comparing Medicare plans through the State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIPs). You can easily locate your local SHIP by visiting www.shiphelp.org or by calling their toll-free hotline at 877-839-2675.
The SMPs, operating in all 50 states as well as Puerto Rico, Guam, The U.S. Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia, aim to empower and assist Medicare beneficiaries, along with their families and caregivers, in preventing, detecting, and reporting healthcare fraud, errors, and abuse. To report any instances of Medicare fraud, errors, or abuse, visit www.smpresource.org or call 1-877-808-2468.
Stay informed and vigilant during this OEP season to make the best decisions for your Medicare coverage and benefits.