AARP advertising to seniorsby Denise Early on Oct. 28, 2009, under Health
If you watch much television, you’ve probably seen the advertisements for AARP Medicare insurance products. Ads for the AARP Medicare Supplement must be on CNN 50 times per day. And I’ve recently noticed an ad for the AARP Medicare Complete Advantage plan is being aired just in time for the Medicare annual enrollment period (November 15 to December 31).
Here is an example of how effective and how confusing advertising can be for seniors.
Elaine is a friend of mine in Rhode Island who is 80 years old. I was visiting Elaine last summer and the topic of Medicare came up, so I asked what coverage she had. Elaine went through her wallet and pulled out not one, but two AARP cards. One card was for a Medicare Supplement and one was for a Medicare Advantage plan – both from AARP.
I was puzzled and so was Elaine. Which coverage did she have? Elaine wasn’t sure herself, but she knew she had called AARP three months earlier to sign up for the Medicare Supplement policy (at a cost of $175/month). So, even though it was Saturday, I called 1-800-MEDICARE and asked the question, “What do you see in Elaine’s Medicare record that shows if she is covered by original Medicare or a Medicare Advantage plan?”
The Medicare representative said Elaine was enrolled in the AARP Medicare Complete plan, which is a Medicare Advantage plan (also known as a Medicare replacement plan). I asked if Elaine’s Medicare Supplement policy would work with Elaine’s Medicare Advantage plan. I knew the answer but wanted the Medicare Rep to tell Elaine.
The answer was that a Medicare Supplement only works when a person is on original Medicare. The Med Supp covers the gaps in Medicare. But when a person enrolls in a Medicare Advantage plan, the plan pays the medical bills, not Medicare. Therefore, Elaine’s AARP Medicare Supplement was useless.
“Let’s call AARP.”
So, with Elaine’s Medicare coverage clarified, I called AARP to find out how Elaine got signed up for a Medicare Supplement and was paying $175/month for a useless policy. The AARP representative said all callers are asked “if they have coverage already”. When I asked if customers are required to answer more specific questions about their coverage, the AARP rep said that was not part of the phone interview script she had.
Many seniors have made the same mistake.
As Elaine recalled why she signed up for the AARP Medicare Supplement, she said she needed to cover the gaps in her Medicare Advantage plan. These are the co-pays for doctor visits, hospital stays, tests, etc. But Medicare Supplements only fill the gaps in Medicare coverage. They don’t fill the gaps in Medicare Advantage plans.
Elaine was embarrassed by her mistake, but I was able to tell her that she was not the only person to be confused by the AARP advertisements. You see, I have met other seniors in Tucson who did the same thing as Elaine.
I told Elaine to cancel the Medicare Supplement policy and to ask AARP to refund the premiums she had paid. Medicare Supplement policies can be cancelled at any time – but Medicare Advantage plans and Part D Drug plans can only be cancelled at the end of the year.
I wonder how many seniors are in the same AARP boat?