Medicare shoppers often face a barrage of unsolicited calls and aggressive ads

"She clicked, and within minutes, she received an avalanche of calls with health insurance quotes she had never requested ... "

NPR SHOTS – One minute last December Leslie Montgomery was a medieval warlord pillaging a nearby kingdom. The next she was a retiree drowning in a flood of confusing Medicare sales calls.

The 75-year-old had been deeply immersed in her favorite free online game when a banner ad appeared warning her that she might be missing out on money from the federal government. She clicked, and within minutes, she received an avalanche of calls with health insurance quotes she had never requested.

A batch of federal regulations issued this year aim to protect consumers like Montgomery.

Following a sharp rise in complaints of misleading marketing of private Medicare plans and a damning report by Senate Democrats, the Biden administration finalized new rules to rein in deceptive Medicare marketing tactics.

Those reforms face their first big test as Medicare’s open enrollment period kicks off. It’s an annual chance for the country’s 65 million Medicare beneficiaries to shop for higher quality, lower cost insurance coverage.

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It’s easy to see why Montgomery gets tempted by these kinds of online ads. She’s one of about 12 million people in the U.S. whose medical and social vulnerabilities qualify them for both Medicare and Medicaid.

Earlier this year, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and not long after was evicted from her home in an R.V. park for seniors. The Phoenix, Ariz., resident now lives on just $50 a month of disposable income. So, she clicks.

As insurance brokers peppered her phone last December, Montgomery repeatedly explained that she was interested in the offer of extra cash from the federal government, not in switching plans.

“And they say, ‘Well, you have to have the right insurance policy to get it,’ ” she recalls. As soon as she hears that she hangs up — she doesn’t want a new health plan.

“It’s extremely frustrating to figure that somebody is there to help you and then you find out they’re not there to help you,” Montgomery says. “They’re basically there to shaft you.”

Get trustworthy help shopping for Medicare plans

  • Research plans using Medicare Plan Compare, a free, searchable tool created by the federal government to help you compare plans
  • Call 1-800-633-4227, a federally run Medicare helpline
  • For another helpline option, you can also call the nonprofit Medicare Rights Center at 1-800-333-4114
  • Get one-on-one counseling. Search for your state’s State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) to find local, free counseling
  • To report suspected fraud, contact the Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) Resource Center (877-808-2468) or the Inspector General’s fraud hotline at 1-800-HHS-TIPS (447-8477) or tips.oig.hhs.gov

Too many options, too little information and an alarming level of deception

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Open enrollment — which runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 this year — allows seniors to choose a new Medicare plan if they wish …

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