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Finding a Medigap Policy on the Web? Better Think Twice

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Oh, those clever insurance agents, always on the prowl for new customers. This time they are using the current period of open enrollment for Medicare to snag customers for other insurance products'products that consumers may not need or want. I stumbled onto an Annual Enrollment Period Website that looked intriguing. After a closer look, it seemed like it was really designed to provide sales prospects to insurance biggies selling various policies to seniors'Bankers Life and Casualty, Mutual of Omaha, Humana, BlueCross BlueShield and WellPoint.

But as Medigap sellers have often done, they cloaked their pitch as something official, implying that the government had given its blessing. When I printed five pages from the Website, the following appeared in the upper left corner:  "Official Medicare Insurance Enrollment and Quoting Tool." "This is not anything that is sponsored by us," said Medicare spokesman Peter Ashkenaz. In very small type at the bottom of page two, easily missed by older people with poor eyesight, came the disclosure that Annual-Enrollment-Period.com is a private website, not an insurance carrier, and not affiliated with the government.

The first page of the site indeed pushed Medigap policies, that supplemental coverage that seniors have been buying for years to cover Medicare's coverage gaps, such as deductibles and coinsurance for physicians' services. It gave some short, factual information about these policies: that the benefits are standardized and costs are not regulated. To get a quote, though, I had to disclose my ZIP code  Fair enough, since premiums are determined by where seniors live.

The second page wanted more detailed info, like date of birth and contact information.  It also told me that getting a quote only takes a minute. With our brief form, you'll have customized Medicare quotes in just a minute. Simply answer a few questions and you'll be able to compare the best plan for you right away!''  The fine print said an agent in the Annual-Enrollment-Period.com network would contact me for a customized quote.

After clicking on a "Get Quotes" button, "Step 2" popped up with its buttons to click for information on long-term-care insurance, annuities, funeral insurance and senior housing.'  That's called cross-selling, and apparently insurance companies are becoming as good as the banks at doing it. On this site I could learn about options for Alzheimer's care, retirement homes and assisted living facilities. I was even asked when I would be ready to move into a one. Was my name being turned over to these providers eager to give prospects a sales pitch?

One page advised that I "click on each provider below for pricing in New York."  When I did, the links to six insurance companies did not work. Nor did they work on the final page I examined. What that page did, however, was offer was a subtle pitch for health savings accounts paired with high deductible insurance plans. That may be a "more cost effective option" the fine print said.

The "pitch" ended with six questions to ask your health insurance agent. The first was to ask if the agent represented one company or many. "It's important to understand the range of insurance products the agent is selling," the question advised visitors to the site. Why, I thought this Website had to do with Medigap policies. The last question suggested that people ask when their children will no longer be covered. "After they move out of the house?  Graduate from college?  Get a full time job?" Not really relevant to Medigap policies either.

It was pretty clear by now that this operation was all about collecting names for sales people. It was no different from some of the ruses insurance agents and carriers have used for years to find new customers. For those interested in comparing options with actual premiums disclosed, try using the official Website of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency that administers the Medicare program. Go to the Medicare Plan Finder where you'll find information about premiums'instead of disclosing your personal information for sales people to exploit.

More Blog Posts by Trudy Lieberman

author bio

Trudy Lieberman, a journalist for more than 40 years, is an adjunct associate professor of public health at Hunter College in New York City. She had a long career at Consumer Reports specializing in insurance, health care, health care financing and long-term care. She is a longtime contributor to the Columbia Journalism Review and blogs for its website, CJR.org, about media coverage of health care, Social Security and retirement. As a William Ziff Fellow at the Center for Advancing Health, she contributes regularly to the Prepared Patient Blog. Follow her on twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.


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Medicare   Trudy Lieberman   Pay for your Health Care   Aging Well  


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