By Alexa Spencer | Word In Black

Credit: Kampus Production / Pexels

(WIB) – Senior citizens were victims of false and illegal advertising during the 2022 open enrollment period.

Each year, from October to December, elderly Americans enroll in Medicare — a federal health insurance program for people 65 or older and young people with certain illnesses or disabilities. Enrollees choose from two types of plans: Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage. 

The open enrollment period comes with a parade of marketing pitches. Ads for various plans are everywhere — on TV, the internet, highway billboards, brochures in the doctor’s office. Some beneficiaries are targeted by phone and email. 

Unfortunately, scammers also flood the market. 

According to a recent survey by the Commonwealth Fund and SSRS, many senior citizens were victims of illegal marketing tactics during the 2022 enrollment period, with Black and low-income enrollees being violated most.

Fraud and False Advertising

The survey of 2,000 U.S. U.S. adults age 65 and older reported marketing activity that federal standards would consider fraud. 

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), no marketer — whether calling on behalf of a plan or a third party — can request a beneficiary’s Medicare or Social Security number outside of the formal enrollment process.

Yet, 22% of seniors with an income less than $25,000 reported these activities, along with 9% of seniors with an income between $25,000 and $50,000, and 6% of seniors with an income at or above $50,000. 

It’s also illegal to offer time-limited, special discounts on plans. These plans don’t exist and aren’t allowed by Medicare, but 22% of seniors with incomes less than $25,000 reported ads or calls offering special discounts if they “sign up right away or within a certain time frame.”

Illegal Phone Calls

Medicare marketing isn’t illegal in and of itself, but there are regulations. 

Marketers are prohibited from calling beneficiaries unless they agreed to be contacted or requested the call. Additionally, CMS doesn’t endorse or market specific plans. Though, marketers sometimes unethically portray a relationship with CMS and the Medicare program.

According to Commonwealth, 88% of Black adults reported unsolicited calls in the past 12 months, compared to 76% of white adults. 

Gretchen Jacobson, lead study author and vice president of Medicare at the Commonwealth Fund, says “choosing a Medicare plan is an important decision for older adults, with far-reaching consequences for their health and finances.”

“Yet too many beneficiaries are not getting the information they need to make those choices — and, even worse, some are exposed to fraudulent or misleading marketing pitches,” she said in a statement. “It is especially concerning to see that lower-income seniors are more likely to report receiving illegal or fraudulent marketing calls.”

Complaints about Medicare marketing are on the rise, but a vast majority of adults age 65 and older reported not knowing how to report their concerns. 

“More needs to be done to understand why and how this is happening,” Jacobson said. “To protect beneficiaries from bad actors and to make it easier for them to file complaints.”