Marketing can be intense for Medicare drug plans

During Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, you will likely experience more marketing from private Medicare insurance providers, such as Part D prescription drug plans. Companies try to reach consumers in various ways, like television commercials, radio ads, events, mailings, phone calls and texts. The government has rules, though, to protect you from forceful or misleading marketing. Knowing the rules and red flags can help you make the best choices for yourself during Open Enrollment.

Marketing rules

Remember, these companies are not the government. They just have permission from the government to sell their private plans to you. The government says that plans and their representatives cannot:

Call or email you if you are not enrolled in the company’s plan.

Call or email you if you have asked them to stop - even if you are enrolled in their plan.

Visit your home without an appointment.

Sell you a plan or set up a sales appointment with you while at an educational event. If you share your contact information at an

event like this, this often permits plans to contact you later. However, this permission to contact you expires after 12 months.

Use the Medicare name or logo or imply that they represent Medicare.

Approach you in public spaces like a mall or parking lot.

On the other hand, plans and representatives must:

Explain how enrolling in a new plan will affect your current coverage.

Check that your providers and pharmacies are in the plan’s network before enrolling you.

Tell you which companies they represent and whether they sell all plans available in your area.

Schedule an appointment with you no sooner than 48 hours after you agree to the scope of the appointment.

Red flags

You may not remember all the rules, but there are some definite red flags. For example:

No one should make you feel pressured or rushed to enroll in their plan.

No one should make you feel that you could lose your Medicare benefits if you don’t enroll in their plan.

No one should ask for your Medicare or Social Security numbers just to provide you with information.

No one should make a cold call to ask for your Medicare or Social Security information.

Instead, rely on government websites, phone numbers and offices for information. The State of Alaska’s Medicare Information Office is funded by federal grants to support Alaskans. You can contact our office to understand how plans can and cannot market their products to you. Remember that you should take your time making enrollment decisions. If you feel uncertain or rushed, tell the plan representative that you need time to think on it and will follow up with them later if you’re interested. Before you sign up for a plan, contact a plan directly to learn about the services it covers, and get everything in writing.

Report marketing violations

If you think you have experienced marketing violations, you should report it. Keep any documented proof, such as an agent’s business card, marketing materials, emails, or phone call records. You can report marketing violations to 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) or you may call our office at 907-269-3680. Our certified counselors can explain the government’s marketing rules, help you review the incident, and report it to the correct authorities, if needed.

Protect yourself

No one should ask for your Medicare number, Social Security Number, or bank information just to provide you with information. Someone can use your personal information to enroll you in a plan without your permission or to steal your personal information. If you have been enrolled in a plan without your knowledge or because of misleading marketing, you may be able to make changes to your coverage outside of the Open Enrollment Period. Call our office to see if you qualify and for help making the change.

Remember – you may call for our help. We are happy to answer your questions during the open enrollment period, or at any time during the year. For any Medicare related questions, please feel free to contact the State of Alaska Medicare Information Office at 800-478-6065 or 907-269-3680; our office is also known as the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), the Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP), and the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act (MIPPA) program.

If you are part of an agency or organization that assists seniors with medical resources, consider networking with the Medicare Information Office. Call us to inquire about our new Ambassador program.

Sean McPhilamy is a volunteer and Certified Medicare Counselor for the Alaska Medicare Information Office.

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