We have seen a lot of changes in technology regarding how we buy things. In relation to COVID it reproves that necessity is still the mother of invention. The shopping options for Medicare Advantage plans today were inconceivable three years ago.
Here is a path to follow for anyone who is either enrolling for the first time or looking to shop plans for 2021.
Let’s start with the general truths.
For self shoppers. Medicare.gov will compare plans in your area. The search results are summaries and not complete. You can search by medications although the search will not be saved.
If you want to search doctors, hospitals and the like, you must select a plan and get redirected to the insurer’s provider search. The process is clumsy and time consuming.
Spoiler alert. What can take you hours and give incomplete information if you aren’t good with technology can happen in minutes…read on.
All agents representing insurance of any type must be licensed in the state. To enroll a beneficiary in a Medicare Advantage plan, they must be contracted and appointed with any insurance company they would represent.
Then they must pass standardized, annual examinations on required training for Medicare Advantage in general. They must also pass annual exams and training on plans for each company they would represent.
Compensation for these plans is regulated and the same for all plans and companies.
Step One – Decide if you need a local agent.
You know now that agents must bring certain standardized credentials to the table. Agent knowledge notwithstanding, it’s a trust decision mainly. However, it’s also a question of safety in today’s world and also of convenience.
Attending group events with numerous strangers to hear the virtues of a single insurer’s offerings might not be worth the risk. If you want to shop the market in your area you have to engage with many different local agents of varying skill levels. Be prepared to invest a lot of time.
All insurers offering Medicare Advantage plans in the face of the COVID pandemic have invested in remote application processes from beginning to end. It’s a question of survival. There is new technology that can show all plans available in any given area and search by doctor or medications.
The results can be viewed on a desktop, tablet or smartphone.
Enrollment can be done by a text link or email. It’s remarkably easy.
You need a local agent if:
You don’t either own or have a fear of smartphones or tablets. If you can post or comment on Facebook, this is easy. Even if you can’t, chances are you know somebody.
You like driving to attend numerous events with strangers; led by people who want you to enroll in their company’s plans, regardless of how well it attends to what is important to you.
You don’t mind calling every insurance company in your area that offers Medicare Advantage plans that also want to enroll you regardless.
There is a timesaving, transparent, safer, better way.
Step Two – What to carefully consider before giving out your personal information.
In observing all of advertising (TV, Facebook, Direct Mail et al) there are certain cautions that should be taken.
Other than from the insurers directly, these adverts (Facebook refers to all of these as “Sponsored”) may be from Insurance agents/agencies, or from entities that generate leads for agents, agencies, call centers and/or insurers.
The latter lead generators entities are “ad buyers” who make their money selling your information and are not credentialed agents. Sometimes their ad copy is not in compliance with CMS regulations or insurer policies and can be misleading.
A hasty decision could be regrettable as in very short order your phone could blow up with calls and your inbox too. Also, your information could be resold to others who do not even represent Medicare Advantage plans or whatever you are searching for.
With direct mail ad response don’t be surprised if the agents show up unannounced at your home. Agents call it “door knocking”.
With TV, there is a reason the disclosure is in microscopic print and passes at a pace that would make a speed reader cry.
Our clients have a single point of contact while shopping and their information is NEVER sold.
Step Three – Ask the important questions
Perhaps you are a first time shopper and/or you have plodded through the Medicare & You publication or waited an hour or more on the Medicare.gov line.
Possibly you have a plan that you are not happy with for one or more reasons. Either way, asking good questions on the topics that concern you is vital to getting the plan in 2021 that suits you best.
A skilled independent agent who can access all plans in your area will ask good questions. They may bring to your attention concerns that you have not considered.
Most beneficiaries leave a plan for one of two reasons.
Lack of access to quality care – They cannot see a doctor or facility for network reasons. When they go to a doctor the wait time is unreasonably long. The care they receive is not helping them achieve better health outcomes.
Excessive cost of care – Medication prices can be needlessly high (even unaffordable) because the plan is not optimal for your particular prescription needs. Higher copays for frequently used services as well can eat into budgets.
Excessive distance to travel to vital or preferred service providers can be avoided.
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Gather some questions before shopping. They could be general questions about Medicare or specifically about how Medicare Advantage works. A highly skilled agent will be empathetic and apolitical in addition to being knowledgeable.
Ask if the agent can show you all plans in your area. A shared screen application like join.me or Zoom can host a meeting where you can safely look at and compare multiple plans at once. These applications are remarkably easy and safe to use.
There is a lot of bad information out there. Ask questions and get answers. It’s essential to good decisions in every respect.
Step Four – Narrow the field
Shopping for Medicare Advantage plans is kinda like the Kentucky Derby. They start with as many as 20 horses, but by the end it’s a two or three horse race.
If you live in a rural area you may not have that many choices but chances are there is one or more that are of value. Some urban areas or areas of high beneficiary populations like Florida you may have 40 or more plans to evaluate!
If you and your agent have asked the important questions then it should be down to no more than three plans. Sometimes it’s a no brainer.
On the other hand, you might have to strike a balance between cost and access and compromise a little. A top agent with access to all plans can also search out physicians who have awards, certifications, reviews etc. that coincide with what it most important to you when cost drives your decision.
Step Five – Enroll with ease, confidence and gratitude.
Once you have settled on a plan, our technology allows us to populate the information securely online. We send the application to you by email or text (even better) and you read and type in your name to complete. We are always here for post enrollment advice.
Annual reviews are also an important part as plans and networks may change from year to year.
No banking information or Social Security numbers are needed.
Our expertise is proven in thousands of health insurance enrollments of all types and is always free. Remember, rates in Medicare Advantage are regulated and so is our compensation that does not affect your rate or benefits.
Our testimonials speak for themselves.