Joe Namath may have delivered the New York Jets’ last Super Bowl championship, but the old quarterback is throwing a bunch of bull on his TV commercials for private Medicare plans.
He’s one of a slew of pitchmen and women selling Medicare Advantage plans to the more than 54 million Americans 65 or over eligible for Medicare. That includes more than 100,000 of us in Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties.
Those pitches, which also flood our mailboxes during this enrollment period that ends Dec. 7, complicate what can be a mind-boggling array of insurance choices.
First, some basic facts:
Medicare Advantage is the all-in-one alternative to original Medicare health insurance. Original Medicare includes coverage for hospitalization (Part A), medical visits and procedures (Part B) and, at additional cost, prescription drugs (Part D). Before you enroll in Advantage plans, you must have original Medicare, and you still must pay the Part B premium of $148.50 (in 2021). While Medicare Advantage plans include medical, hospital and drug coverage, they can also feature extra benefits not offered by traditional Medicare, such as dental, hearing and vision coverage with no additional premium.
Especially in those pitches from celebrities like Namath, William Shatner and Jimmie Walker, they can also promise everything from free meal delivery to money deposited in your Social Security account.
“Buyer beware,” says Erinn Braun, Orange County Office for the Aging’s Health Insurance Counseling and Assistance Program coordinator. She provided much information for this column.
Pitches like Namath’s can be misleading or downright deceptive, starting with the red, white and blue colors that insinuate the ads are from the government, as do the state logos on some mailers. While the plans themselves are perfectly legal and may be great for many of the 27 million Americans enrolled in them, they often don’t deliver everything those pitches seem to promise. Plus, those pitches don’t come close to telling the full story of the benefits of those plans – many of which aren’t even offered in your area.
Unlike original Medicare, which is accepted by virtually all doctors and hospitals, Medicare Advantage plans include a network of doctors and hospitals you must visit to be insured. So if you hear about a great gastroenterologist in New York City and she isn’t in your Advantage plan’s network, your insurance may not cover your visit. Plus, unlike original Medicare, you may need prior approval for coverage of a medical procedure or equipment such as insulin pumps.
And while the dental and vision coverage of Medicare Advantage plans sounds great, some plans in your area may only include routine visits, not more expensive items like dental implants and eyeglasses. Plus, the average yearly coverage limit of Advantage dental plans ranges from about $1,000 to $1,300, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The dentists and eye doctors you visit must also be in the plan’s networks – meaning your eye doctor or dentist may not accept your plan.
As for those meals and money Joe Willie is pitching?
Again, buyer beware.
A few Advantage plans may offer meal delivery for the qualified but only one or two plans in your county may offer those benefits. And your doctors or hospital may not accept those plans. Same thing goes for that money Namath says could go into your Social Security account. Not only does that money go toward the required payment for Part B of original Medicare, very few plans – if any – in your area may feature that benefit, and those plans may not include your doctors.
Finally, when you call the number provided by Namath and other pitch folks, you’ll reach a salesperson who’s in business to … you guessed it … sell you a Medicare Advantage plan.
For help selecting the right Medicare plan for you, contact your county’s Office of the Aging. Orange: 845-615-3710, Sullivan: 845-807-0241, Ulster: 845-340-3456. A trusted health insurance agent can also help. Medicare.gov and 1-800-Medicare provide a wealth of information.