New Senate Report Says Medicare Advantage Ads Mislead Seniors

New Senate Report Says Medicare Advantage Ads Mislead Seniors

TSCL has been warning our supporters that all the ads for Medicare Advantage plans that are seen on TV, heard on radio, seen online, or in mail sent to homes are from insurance companies that want to sell their policies.

We’ve also pointed out that anyone who calls a phone number given in an ad will speak will someone who is a salesperson who will want to sell them a plan.

Now, a new report released last week after an investigation by Senate Finance Committee Democrats confirms that seniors are being flooded with fraudulent and misleading information about switching from traditional Medicare to private Medicare Advantage plans.

The report says that insurers and brokers are going after seniors with advertising for Medicare Advantage plans via in-person sales, television ads, telemarketing calls, and robocalls. The ads for the increasingly popular private plans also sometimes falsely promised coverage for preferred health-care providers or higher Social Security payments, it found.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported in August that the number of complaints about marketing of Advantage plans more than doubled to 39,617 for the first eleven months of 2021, spurring the Finance Committee’s investigation.

“It is unacceptable for this magnitude of fraudsters and scam artists to be running amok in Medicare, and I will be working closely with CMS to ensure this dramatic increase in marketing complaints is addressed,” Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a statement.

Democrats have been concerned about the rapid growth in Medicare Advantage plans, which they say have boosted insurer profits much more than they have benefited seniors. UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Humana Inc. account for nearly half of all Advantage plans, which cover seniors in exchange for a fixed fee from Medicare. Neither company is called out in the report for misleading advertising.

Medicare Advantage could cover the majority of Medicare’s 64.4 million beneficiaries as soon as next year, according to CMS data. Nearly 46% of Medicare beneficiaries are enrolled in Advantage plans this year, an increase of 3% from 2021.

“For too long, Medicare Advantage has put profits over the proper care of our seniors,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in a September statement, urging the government to crack down on Medicare Advantage plans denying payment for necessary care.

In one instance cited in the report, marketing materials from an unnamed Advantage plan or its broker were made to look like they came from the federal government, the report found.

“These practices are intentionally deceptive as they blur the lines between official government communication and private health plan marketing,” according to the report.

The report called for reinstating rules loosened under the Trump administration that specify which marketing materials are under CMS scrutiny. Wyden also wants to block cold-calling seniors on Medicare, among other changes.