Half-Truths And Medicare Advantage Commercials

Half-Truths And Medicare Advantage Commercials

Weekly, we receive phone calls from people asking about something they saw on their tv and wondering if their insurance covers whatever they are seeing advertised.  This is more prevalant in the fall of each year, when Medicare Advantage companies ramp up their advertising during annual enrollment.  As an office, we offer both Medicare Supplements and Medicare Advantage plans to our clients.  We try to help people figure out what is best for their situation, budget, and lifestyle.  Our end goal is to help people avoid costly Medicare mistakes.  Sometimes, what is portrayed on tv is only half of the story, as you will see below.  This is an article recently published online at Forbes magazine, but echoes our thoughts so we wanted to share.  Source:  https://www.forbes.com/sites/dianeomdahl/2020/02/11/half-truths-and-medicare-advantage-commercials/#3d223f8c42ff


If you watched any television in the last several months, you probably saw a slew of commercials for Medicare Advantage plans. One that pops up frequently features a former professional football player who once did a commercial wearing pantyhose. His commercials must be working so well that another former NFL star has also started promoting Advantage plans.

All the commercials, no matter the narrator, talk about the Medicare benefits you deserve, that you should be getting. They list those benefits in a very big and bold font, and encourage you to call the free number and sign up today.

According to Federal law, whatever we see or hear in an advertisement must be truthful and not misleading. I spent some time the last few days closely watching several different commercials. Everything that was said about the cost and benefits was true, to the extent that it was said. But there was much left unsaid and that’s the important information you need to make a smart decision.

First, the benefits

Get the benefits you deserve, including rides to medical appointments, private home aides, nurse and doctor visits by telephone.

Medicare describes these as benefits for daily maintenance and doesn’t cover them. However, because of policy changes, Medicare Advantage plans can now provide them. The plan, not Medicare, must cover the costs. This is a new program and not that many plans offer these benefits.

Based on my preliminary plan research, here are some important points not mentioned in the commercials:

  • These benefits appear to be more common in health maintenance organization (HMO) plans. Except for an emergency, the benefits are only available through a network of selected providers, which can limit the individual’s choice.
  • The plan likely will require prior approval or authorization. Before receiving care, the plan must review and approve the physician’s order.
  • There are limits on these benefits. For example, two meals a day for five days after hospitalization with a limit of four hospitalizations, and a private home aide four hours a day for no more than 31 days in a year.
  • And, most important, the plans we researched require members to select only one benefit per calendar year.

In some of the commercials, there were two more benefits that require clarification.

Free preventive screenings

Medicare covers a long list of preventive and screening services. You don’t need to enroll in one of these plans to get preventive services.

A 75% discount on prescription medications in the Coverage Gap

You see this and think, “Wow! A big discount on drugs! Where do I sign?” However, as with preventive services, this benefit is not unique to Medicare Advantage plans.

The Coverage Gap is more commonly known as the donut hole. In 2020, the donut hole closed. Beneficiaries are responsible for 25% of the cost of medications in this payment stage. Or, in other words, they get a 75% discount. Anyone with Part D prescription drug coverage will qualify automatically for this discount when their total drug costs hit $4,080. This benefit comes with the plans in the commercials, some other Advantage plan with drug coverage, or a stand-alone Part D drug plan.

Second, the costs

All these benefits may be available at no additional cost to you.

The commercials focus on zero-premium plans and benefits available for no added cost. However, at the moment the narrator says this, a line of small type appears on the bottom of the screen. It’s there for only four seconds, while the list of benefits continues. The small type reads, “Plan premiums, copayments, and coinsurance can apply.”

Not all Medicare Advantage plans are zero-premium. And for those that are, it’s important to know that zero-premium does not mean zero costs. There are out-of-pocket costs for most services. Plan members will pay their share of costs until they reach the plan’s out-of-pocket maximum limit. That’s how much a person could write in checks when something happens, like a cancer diagnosis or a major car crash. In 2019, the average limit was $5,059.

Third, the call

The narrators talk about the help you will get when you call the toll-free number. But, once again, the small print is revealing.

Dial the number and you’ll be transferred to a licensed insurance agent. One commercial noted that the agent may or may not offer Medicare Advantage plans. Another said the person you talk with may not offer plans in your area.

A question

The facts, as presented, are true but then the question becomes, “Are these commercials misleading?” According to the Macmillan dictionary, misleading means something that is intended or likely to make someone believe something that is incorrect or not true.

In fall 2019, the American Medical Association (AMA) passed a resolution.

“Whereas, Medicare Advantage plans are heavily marketed to seniors by insurance companies, with less than ideal transparency in advertising; … and

“Whereas, Presentations by insurance company officials to seniors can overemphasize the value of different options and can create confusion; therefore be it

“RESOLVED, That our American Medical Association encourage AARP, insurance companies and other vested parties to develop simplified tools and guidelines for comparing and contrasting Medicare Advantage plans.”

The AMA identified the need for tools to help individuals go beyond the TV commercials and get the information they need to make a smart decision.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services redid its tool for comparing plans. The Medicare Plan Finder shows the premium in a large font. Then, you can check out the plan’s out-of-pocket costs for medical benefits on the details page. Beyond that, as pointed out in a past post, most of the essential information has disappeared. The Plan Finder no longer has links to networks, a list of preferred pharmacies, and most important, complete information about coverage rules like prior authorization.

The best way to get all the facts is to check the plan’s Evidence of Coverage. This document describes in detail the plan’s benefits, how much you will pay, and how the plan works, including authorization rules, limits, networks, and more. To find it, go to the plan’s website, look for the Evidence of Coverage link. This may take some searching but you’ll get the information you need on available benefits, limits, approval, and more.

Keep in mind that these Medicare Advantage plans are offered by for-profit entities, corporations not unlike your cable provider, department store, or neighborhood used car lot. The purpose of the TV commercials is to get you to act, to call the number on your screen, to make a purchase. First, do your research. Be an informed shopper. Go beyond the commercials to the whole truth. Your Medicare coverage is too important.

If you would like help muddling through all of this confusing information, please give our office a call.  We are happy to help you sort through the complicated Medicare alphabet and choices!  Call our office at 937-492-8800 and schedule a free, no obligation consultation.

Source:  Diane Omdahl for Forbes Magazine

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