Wyden Launches Inquiry Into Deceptive Medicare Marketing

Sen. Ron Wyden 2016 Shutterstock WEB.jpg

Oregon’s senior U.S. senator on Thursday launched an inquiry with officials from multiple states regarding potentially deceptive marketing practices for Medicare Advantage plans that cover seniors.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden sent a letter to Oregon’s insurance commissioner and officials in 14 other states requesting information about complaints each state has received. Wyden, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, cited recent reports while addressing both Medicare Advantage, a health care coverage plan for seniors 65 and older and Part D, which provides prescription coverage.

“I have heard alarming reports that MA and Part D health plans and their contractors are engaging in aggressive sales practices that take advantage of vulnerable seniors and people with disabilities,” Wyden wrote in the letter. “I write seeking information about potentially deceptive marketing practices being conducted by insurance organizations offering Medicare benefits under the Medicare Advantage (MA) program and the Part D prescription drug program.”

The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services reported that complaints more than doubled in 2021 for seniors enrolled in Medicare Advantage Plans. More than 800,000 Oregonians are on some kind of Medicare plan, whether traditional or an Advantage plan.

Medicare Advantage plans are available through private companies as an alternative to traditional Medicare plans. 

Wyden said misleading sales pitches are not a new problem, citing a 2009 Government Accountability Office report about “inappropriate” marketing of Medicare Advantage plans. That report said federal regulators took action against at least 73 organizations during a three-year period.

In 2010, the federal inspector general of the Health and Human Services Office found after an examination of marketing plans that regulations hadn’t stemmed the problems, Wyden noted in his letter. That report concluded that “the number and topics of sales agent marketing complaints remained unchanged after implementation of sales agent marketing regulations.”

Wyden asked for complaints from 2019 to 2022 about marketing, including from third-party organizations that advertise for insurers. It also asks for examples of false and misleading advertising, including mailers, robocalls, television commercials and websites.

He also asked if the false marketing appeared aimed at certain geographic areas or communities, such as lower-income people or minority groups.

Wyden also asked about whether the complaints show different companies making the same kind of misleading sales pitch, such as offering free meals, scooters or premiums.

The letter was addressed to Oregon Insurance Commissioner Andrew Stolfi and the Oregon Department of Human Services, which oversees the Senior Health Benefits Assistance program.

"We have only recently received the letter recently and are investigating Sen. Wyden’s concerns," said Jason Horton, a spokesperson for Stolfi and the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services. "Once we have completed that investigation, we will have a response."

Elisa Williams, a spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Human Services said that DHS "has not had direct involvement with this issue."

Besides Oregon, the letter also went to: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.

You can reach Ben Botkin at [email protected] or via Twitter @BenBotkin1.

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