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Medicare mailers bring more questions than answers

How to navigate your Medicare options

Each year millions of letters are mailed to citizens who are nearing their 65th birthday. My mom is turning 65 later this year and has begun bringing the mail she receives to me. They all play on some variation of the same theme:

“You’re about to turn 65 and you need to do something about Medicare. Trust us to sell you the right product or solution.”

Most of the mailers look like they’re distributed by the government. Others are branded with an insurance company logo — maybe one you’re with now or have been with in the past.

Let’s talk about the three different “buckets” these mailers can be divided into and how they may or may not match up with what you actually need.

1. Agent-sponsored seminars

Some mailers advertise the existence of a generic “Medicare seminar” taking place in your area. The economic motivation to host these seminars is the possibility of selling you a Medicare-related insurance policy. Hosts also hope that attendees will have other insurance-related needs such as “final expense” life insurance and even annuities. Seminars can be a good place to get some basic information, but often only on the few Medicare-related products that the host has a contract to sell.

2. Carrier-sponsored seminars

With the advent of Medicare Advantage, insurance carriers are increasingly holding seminars about Medicare. The economic motivation to host these seminars is the huge government payments that carriers receive for every Medicare Advantage sign-up they secure. These seminars can be helpful for learning about Medicare Advantage, and you’ll certainly get a lot of information about the host’s particular Medicare Advantage products. You will also likely learn about Medicare Part D (and about the host’s Part D products).

3. Reply cards

Many mailers include a reply card, inviting you to send the card back in return for information or a phone call from a “qualified representative.” The economic motivation here is to get you to agree to a home visit from an agent, and for you to sign up for a Medicare-related or other insurance product. Or, alternatively, to sign up over the phone.

Given that these are the three buckets into which you can generally divide your “Medicare mail,” which bucket is going to help you figure out what to do about Medicare?

That depends on you. Let’s review three scenarios:

Scenario No. 1: You have an individual policy now. You don’t have any health expenses or prescription drugs. You’ve had BlueCross before and feel comfortable with them. Going to a BlueCross seminar will probably serve you well. Sure, it’s possible you could get a better deal or some more benefits with a different approach, but given that you don’t have any health expenses, you probably won’t end up too far off the mark.

Scenario No. 2: You really enjoy “getting in the weeds” when it comes to health insurance, and you have the time to do so. Go to those agent-sponsored seminars and fill out those reply cards! The number of agents you can talk to about the various policies and combinations of policies is nearly limitless. The more conversations you have, the more you’ll learn, and eventually you’ll develop a level of expertise and confidence for which Medicare approach is best for you.

Scenario No. 3: You turn 65 soon and plan to retire from the company where you’ve worked for 20 years. Your company has told you that they will pay your COBRA for the first six months of retirement. You own a small business with your son and plan to begin working with him full time to help him really get the business going. It has six employees already and its own group plan. All that in mind, your wife does not work in a job that offers health benefits, and since she is only 62 years old, Medicare is not an option for her.

In this third scenario, things can get crazy really fast. It is hard to see how any of the three buckets of mail are going to be helpful. That can be really frustrating, especially if you start filling out some of the reply cards and end up with mountains of brochures and continuous phone calls, but no answers.

I’m telling my mom to throw all of her Medicare mailers away. Two months before her 65th birthday, I’m setting up an appointment with her at one of the Bernard Health stores in Indianapolis. Many local insurance agencies also have services — but no mailers — to help individuals figure this out.

This column originally appeared in the May 5th edition of The Tennessean

If you enjoyed this post, you may like Medicare FAQs : Do you know the answers?.

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