With the annual open enrollment period for Medicare plans ending Friday, Maine’s insurance superintendent is urging seniors to do their research and be wary of aggressive sales tactics.
Each year, Medicare beneficiaries can evaluate and change their health coverage options during open enrollment, which began Oct. 15 and runs through Dec. 7. Seniors can drop regular Medicare and pick up an HMO or PPO plan, called Medicare Advantage, add Part D prescription drug coverage, change their Advantage plan or return to traditional Medicare.
With few exceptions, the plans that seniors choose by midnight Friday will take effect Jan. 1, 2013, and cover them throughout the year.
“Even if you are happy with your current plan, it is still a good idea to look at your options,” Maine Insurance Superintendent Eric Cioppa said in a press release. “For most current participants, this will be the only time in which they can make coverage changes, and many plans are changing. A little extra research could result in significant savings.”
In 2012, Maine had approximately 276,460 eligible Medicare beneficiaries, according to Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation’s state health data report, representing about 21 percent of Maine’s population.
Free Medicare information is available from health insurance counselors throughout Maine through the State Health Insurance Program, or SHIP. SHIP counselors do not sell insurance or recommend policies and their services are confidential.
Maine’s five Area Agencies on Aging and Legal Services for the Elderly can also provide SHIP counseling services. To contact a local Area Agency on Aging, call 877-353-3771. To contact Legal Services for the Elderly (voice and TTY) call 800-750-5353 or visit mainelse.org. Consumers may also contact the Office of Aging and Disability Services, at 800-262-2232 (TTY – Maine relay 711).
Each fall, Medicare beneficiaries receive the Medicare & You Handbook, and program comparisons are available at medicare.gov or by calling 1-800-MEDICARE 800-633-4227, 24 hours a day, seven days a week (TTY users can call 877-486-2048.
“This can be a confusing process. We encourage consumers to ask for help soon and not wait until the end of open enrollment,” Cioppa said. “We also want Maine consumers to watch for abusive or aggressive sales tactics.”
Insurance producers marketing Medicare plans are subject to both state and federal regulations. Cioppa offered the following tips for consumers:
1. Make sure your salesperson is licensed by contacting the Bureau of Insurance.
2. Understand who you are talking to. Medicare does not have “representatives” to solicit business, so be wary of any salesperson claiming to be one.
3. Be wary of free meals. Federal regulations prohibit offers of free meals for signing up for a plan or for listening to a Medicare sales presentation.
4. Expect an appointment. A Medicare salesperson cannot call you at home or go door-to-door unless you have given them permission to do so.
5. Be wary of additional sales pitches. Federal regulations prohibit the sale of additional insurance products (such as life insurance or annuities) during any sales or marketing presentation for Medicare prescription drug or Medicare Advantage plans.
6. Be careful with your personal information. Make sure the person asking for your information is entitled to receive it.
7. If you are uncomfortable, take advantage of the resources listed above.