Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Senators Grill Insurers About Sales Scams

Jaw-dropping accounts of predatory and disgraceful tactics being used by some insurers selling Medicare Advantage (privatized and federally subsidized insurance) plans to unknowing seniors were center stage on Capitol Hill today.

The Senate Select Committee on Aging heard story after story from State insurance commissioners from Oklahoma, Georgia and Wisconsin detailing the cons being perpetrated nationwide to shift seniors away from traditional Medicare into privatized for-profit plans. Their offices have received thousands of complaints from seniors being preyed upon by insurers selling Medicare Advantage plans and these are not just the garden variety “hard-sell” tactics you might expect from salesmen. This is appalling, especially when you consider these companies are working under the auspices of our federal government and being paid handsomely to do so.

Here are a few examples: in Georgia, salesmen haved claimed to be from Medicare (they're not), they've promised free eye care and free dental care (which of course doesn’t exist), some seniors were told Medicare was “going broke” and they must sign up for an MA plan to continue coverage (not true), one salesmen falsified MA applications using information collected previously from seniors he’d sold Part D coverage to and one company targeted clients at a center serving mentally disabled and low-income seniors for MA coverage the seniors couldn’t afford.

Albert Sochor sells insurance in Oklahoma. He’s taken the training to sell Medicare Advantage plans and sums up the situation this way:

“I’ve found if agents do tell the senior everything, the customer won’t signup for the plan…it doesn’t fit their needs. Many salesmen are moremotivated by commissions than care.”

So we’ve got salesmen who work for marketing sub-contractors hired by private insurance companies, which are overpaid (111% more than traditional Medicare) by the federal government and taxpayer dollars to sell medical insurance which might not even fit a senior's healthcare needs. And all of this to lure seniors away from the existing Medicare program. As Mr. Sochor told the Senate Aging Committee:

“We can’t keep saying things are going well when they’re actually getting worse….these are our parents, our moms and dads. Is this how we want to treat them?”

We say that’s more than a fair question.

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