If you’re enrolled in Medicare, you might want to turn off your television this time of year.
In the weeks ahead, the airwaves will be flooded with advertisements promoting insurance plans during Medicare’s open enrollment period, which will start on Sunday and end Dec. 7.
During open enrollment, you can make changes to your Part D prescription drug or Medicare Advantage coverage, and it’s important to review your current selections. Drug plans often change the prices and terms for covering medications — and your needs may have changed in the past year. Medicare Advantage plans can add or remove providers in their network at any time, and many include prescription drug coverage that should be reviewed.
But government officials and researchers have voiced rising concerns about the way these plans are marketed to more than 66 million Americans covered by Medicare, considering the complexity — and importance — of enrollment decisions.
A new study by KFF, a nonprofit organization focused on health policy, examined 1,200 television ads promoting Medicare that aired during the 2022 enrollment season and found that most had promoted Medicare Advantage plans. Drew Altman, KFF’s chief executive, described the blitz as “annual marketing madness” that can confuse and mislead people trying to make complex choices about their coverage.
The marketing practices of health insurers and brokers included improper inferences that the ads are government-sponsored, and messages urging eligible Medicare beneficiaries not to “miss out” on benefits to which they’re entitled, leaving viewers with the incorrect impression that traditional Medicare is incomplete.
The study found nearly 650,000 airings of Medicare ads running during the nine weeks of advertising – more than 9,500 airings per day. Most were sponsored by health insurers, but about 20% ads were sponsored by brokers and other third-party entities, such as marketing firms.
Separate research by the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit research group focused on health care issues, found that as many as 19 percent of Medicare beneficiaries had reported receiving phone calls or seeing ads that would be considered fraud, including offers of “special discounts” for signing up within a certain time frame. Ten percent reported receiving calls asking for their Medicare or Social Security number before plan details would be given.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which runs Medicare, has moved to strengthen its regulation of plan marketing. Starting with this enrollment season, CMS will require all television ads to be approved in advance and add new messaging standards for all forms of marketing — including direct mail, email and phone outreach.
The effects of the crackdown remain to be seen.
This weekend in the New York Times, I examine the changes you can make to your Medicare coverage during fall enrollment, new federal cost controls on prescription drug plans — and how you can cut through the marketing noise to make smart buying decisions.