Marketers finding ways around new Medicare Advantage standards, lawmakers say

CMS rules cracking down on Medicare Advantage advertising are a start, but there's more to be done to stop misleading marketing and aggressive sales tactics in the program, lawmakers and advocates said. 

The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on Medicare Advantage annual enrollment Oct. 18. 

Marketing was a major focus of lawmakers at the hearing. CMS is taking a tougher approach to oversight of advertising of the program this year, requiring marketers to submit televisions ads to the agency for approval before they can air. 

CMS has rejected more than 300 MA ads it found to be misleading, Politico reported Oct. 18. Of 250 ads from third party marketing agencies, the agency rejected 192. 

Sen. Ron Wyden, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said though new oversight is in place, "It's not possible to take any victory laps." 

"As seniors experience Medicare’'s Annual Open Enrollment … our investigators have found marketing middlemen are the latest sleazy set of private sector scoundrels targeting seniors on Medicare Advantage," Mr. Wyden said. 

"These middlemen hijack personal information from as many seniors as possible and then they funnel this personal information to the health insurance plans that pay these sleazy marketers the most," Mr. Wyden added. 

Krista Hoglund, CEO of Security Health Plan, said the non-profit insurer is "very supportive" of the marketing changes made by CMS, but there is still "a lot of work to do" to curb misleading sales tactics. 

"Just last week, in a conversation with a trusted broker partner, he described the ambush that has already begun with his clients receiving as many as five phone calls per day," Ms. Hoglund said. "Clients are overwhelmed with the promise of false benefits so much that his team is barely even able to keep up with the confusion and questions, let alone seek and support new enrollment." 

During Medicare Advantage open enrollment, which runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7, more than 9,500 ads for Medicare Advantage are aired each day, according to KFF. 

Christina Reeg, director of the Ohio Senior Health Insurance Information Program, testified at the hearing that plans have to face consequences, either in star ratings or financial penalties, for the actions of third-party firms they work with. 

"I believe if the plans were held accountable for the actions of those middle men, it might curb some of those calls," Ms. Reeg said. 

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