EDITOR’S NOTE: Our Medicare Surveys “take the pulse” of our audience – assessing our readers’ experiences with Medicare and their attitudes toward the program. The questions and the results are not intended to be scientific.
We know that Medicare, like all health insurance, generates a lot of questions – our article about Medicare when you’re still working past age 65 has more than 500 questions and comments. But where do people feel confident in turning for answers when they have questions?
Our most recent Medicare survey asked our readers to weigh in on where they turn for help when they have questions about Medicare. The results clearly indicate that most people go directly to Medicare, either using Medicare.gov or calling Medicare. Here are the preferences expressed by our readers:
- 13% preferred other Medicare guides (online, phone, or in-person)
- 11% preferred a Medicare insurance company (including brokers and agents)
- 6% preferred counseling from a SHIP Advisor
That so many people choose to go directly to Medicare’s website or call center isn’t surprising. Medicare beneficiaries tend to be quite satisfied with the program – much more so than people who have coverage from an employer or obtained in the individual market. And Medicare makes it fairly easy to get help, with Medicare.gov and 1-800-MEDICARE, plus personalized information available via MyMedicare.gov.
It is somewhat surprising, however, that relatively few people turn to the other available resources, including Medicare insurance companies (or the brokers and agents who help people select these policies), SHIP counselors, and the wealth of information provided by various other reputable sources online and in their communities.
Enrollees consider other Medicare guides
Of the four options we presented to readers, “other Medicare guides” was the most trusted source for 13 percent of respondents. We’re not surprised as we continue to see growth in the number of organizations devoted to helping consumers understand healthcare issues. Two of my favorites when it comes to Medicare are the Medicare Rights Center and the Kaiser Family Foundation’s extensive collection of Medicare information.
You probably won’t be surprised to learn that I’m also a big fan of the Medicare resources on this site – medicareresources.org – including an extensive collection of FAQs, guides, and explainers. Our editors love to dig into the nuances of complicated issues, like the details surrounding the transition from Obamacare to Medicare. We’ve also recently built up our state-by-state Medicare resources with a guide to the policies and regulations that affect financial assistance in each state.
If you can’t find the answer to your question on our site, just leave a comment on any of our articles and we’ll try to help you figure it out.
Medicare insurers, agents, and brokers
Most Medicare beneficiaries have at least one private Medicare policy. As of the end of 2020, about 40% of all Medicare beneficiaries were enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans, and about 40 percent were enrolled in stand-alone Part D prescription drug plans, which are typically used to supplement Original Medicare coverage (most Advantage plans have built-in Part D coverage). And as of 2018, there were also 14 million Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in Medigap plans, although there is considerable overlap between those who have stand-alone Part D plans and Medigap plans.
It’s clear that the majority of Medicare beneficiaries also have coverage from a private Medicare insurance company. And many of these plans were selected with the help of agents and brokers, who are available year-round to provide support and assistance to their clients.
So we would have expected a larger percentage of people to turn to their insurance company, agent, or broker when they have questions. Addressing client questions is a big part of a broker or agent’s job, and that continues for the life of the policy. Brokers and agents aren’t just there to help you pick a plan — they’re a phone call or email away anytime you run into problems with your coverage, are wondering whether you should switch to a different plan, or just have questions about how something works. They’ll also advocate on your behalf if you need help getting a claim approved by your insurer or submitting an appeal.
SHIP counselors: A valuable resource in every state
The fact that SHIP advisors were the least-frequently selected option could just be because people might not know about them. But SHIP (State Health Insurance Assistance Program) counselors are a valuable resource, with local volunteers available to answer questions nationwide.
SHIPs generally operate as part of a state’s Agency on Aging or insurance department, with funding provided via grants from the federal government. The grant proposals they submit to CMS have to demonstrate how they’ll assist both the general Medicare population, as well as “hard to reach” populations (based on race, ethnicity, cultural background, language barriers, disability, low incomes, etc.).
SHIP volunteers go through training in order to meet the needs of various populations, including people under age 65, people who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid, people who are aging into Medicare, and people who are already enrolled in Medicare but want to make a plan change. And they’re locally-based, which means they have a good understanding of the resources available in the area, the insurers that offer plans, the Medicaid programs for dual-eligible beneficiaries, and various other state-specific aspects of Medicare.
Louise Norris is an individual health insurance broker who has been writing about health insurance and health reform since 2006. She has written dozens of opinions and educational pieces about the Affordable Care Act for healthinsurance.org. Her state health exchange updates are regularly cited by media who cover health reform and by other health insurance experts.