Federal health officials are proposing an extensive set of tougher rules governing private Medicare Advantage health plans, in response to wide-scale complaints that too many patients’ medical claims have been wrongly denied and that marketing of the plans is deceptive.
Medicare Advantage is the private-sector alternative to the federal program covering those 65 and over and the disabled. By next year, more than half of Medicare recipients are expected to be enrolled in private plans. These policies are often less expensive than traditional Medicare and sometimes offer attractive, additional benefits like dental care.
Despite their popularity, the plans have been the subject of considerable scrutiny and criticism lately. A recent report by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that several plans might be inappropriately denying care to patients. And nearly every large insurance company in the program, including UnitedHealth Group, Elevance Health, Kaiser Permanente and Cigna, has been sued by the Justice Department for fraudulently overcharging the government.
The period leading up to this year’s enrollment deadline, Dec. 7, amplified widespread criticism about the deceptive tactics some brokers and insurers had used to entice people to switch plans. In November, Senate Democrats issued a scathing report detailing some of the worst practices, including ads that appeared to represent federal agencies and ubiquitous television commercials featuring celebrities.
Federal Medicare officials had said they would review television advertising before it aired, and the new rule targets some of the practices identified in the Senate report that caused some consumers to confuse the companies with the government Medicare program. A proposed regulation would ban the plans from using the Medicare logo and require that the company behind the ad be identified.
“It is certainly a shot across the bow for brokers and insurers in response to the rising number of complaints about misleading marketing activities,” said Tricia Neuman, the executive director of the center for Medicare policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. Ms. Neuman and her team routinely review television ads from the plans.
The proposal would also allow beneficiaries to opt out of marketing calls for plans and would limit how many companies can contact a beneficiary after he or she fills out a form asking for information. The Senate report described patients who had received dozens of aggressive marketing calls they …….