The annual open enrollment for Medicare beneficiaries is almost here (October 15-December 7) and I just saw my first Medicare Advantage plan TV advertisement. Most Medicare beneficiaries have a choice of receiving their Medicare coverage directly through the government (called original or traditional Medicare) or through one or more private (managed-care) health insurance companies offering Medicare Advantage plans in their communities. I am writing this blog post because the television advertisement irritated me on many fronts. Let me describe a few of my objections to Medicare Advantage plan TV advertisement:
- Advertising is a marketing tool used to increase market share and generate profits for one private health insurance company. Why should Medicare funds be spent on improving the business of one private health insurance company? To add insult to injury, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) pays Medicare Advantage plans MORE per beneficiary than it spends on those on original Medicare. Remember that taxpayers and Medicare beneficiaries are largely funding the Medicare bill. The fact that our health spending is going to further the financial interests of private health insurance companies is appalling.
- Our government healthcare policy should make sure that dollars intended for healthcare claims are not diverted for marketing budgets that further the financial interests of individual private health insurance companies. Healthcare policy should serve to maximize the impact of every healthcare dollar for highest healthcare value. Let the advertising budgets come out of the pockets of insurance company executives (bonus payments they receive) if the company chooses to increase market share.
- The cost of expensive Medicare Advantage plan TV advertisement is indirectly passed onto Medicare beneficiaries as higher premiums, deductibles, and cost share. We need our health insurance premiums to go down not up!
- Where are the TV advertisements for original Medicare? To give Medicare beneficiaries a balanced evaluation of Medicare choices, why doesn’t our government also pay for TV advertisements giving the benefits of staying with original Medicare?
Our government needs to implement a national health policy that works for the benefit of the healthcare consumer (and taxpayer) first and foremost. The private healthcare businesses exist to serve the consumer and not the other way around. Educating the Medicare consumer in their choices before and during open enrollment should be a top priority of our government. Our government constantly tells the healthcare consumer that choice is good and we should “shop” for value. If the healthcare consumer was given enough unbiased information on a commonly viewed media (like TV), perhaps informed choices would follow. Educating the healthcare consumer is not a top priority of our government and “choice” is just a word on government reports that never reach the healthcare consumer for maximum impact.
Every time you see a Medicare Advantage plan TV advertisement (or other media advertisement), remember that you, the Medicare beneficiaries and taxpayers, are paying for it with increased taxes and health insurance premiums. Healthcare dollars that go for marketing the services of individual healthcare businesses are aimed at benefiting the bottom line of the business PERIOD. Every healthcare dollar that goes to marketing health insurance plans is a dollar that can be saved to make health care more affordable in the United States. These Medicare Advantage plan TV advertisements further a particular private company’s bottom line and are geared to “sell” their product. They do not give an unbiased picture of Medicare choices needed to make an informed decision.