California Commissioner Warns Seniors About Agents

California’s Insurance Commissioner is worried that crooked health insurance agents may target seniors during open enrollment for Medicare Advantage and Prescription Drug Program.

Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner said that deceptive sales practices “are too common during open enrollment for Medicare Advantage plans and the Medicare Prescription Drug Program.”

Open enrollment for Medicare Advantage plans and the Medicare Prescription Drug Program begins on November 15, 2009. Between now and the end of the open enrollment period, many insurance agents will engage in vigorous marketing and sales efforts.

To educate consumers, Poizner has contacted seniors’ facilities and asked them to post or distribute a list of tips for combating illegal tactics. By sharing some simple tips, Commissioner Poizner aims to greatly reduce improper Medicare-related sales practices aimed at seniors.

The tips to help seniors protect themselves against predatory insurance sales practices include:

* Make Sure They’re Licensed: Not all people marketing Medicare Advantage plans are insurance agents. If the person you are dealing with claims to be an insurance agent, contact the California Department of Insurance or visit to verify license status. Insurance agents are required to print their license number on all business cards, quotations, and advertisements. Also, verify that the insurance company is licensed to do business in California.

* Cold Calls Prohibited: Federal regulations prohibit “cold calls” which may take the form of uninvited sales calls, door-to-door visits, unsolicited emails, telephone calls or any other type of sales contact without your express invitation.

* Be Stingy with Personal Information: Never give out personal information such as your Social Security number, bank account numbers or credit card information over the phone. Verify that the person you are dealing with has proper authority to act on behalf of the plan before you provide your Medicare number. This is a good time to seek assistance from a trusted relative, friend or advisor.

* Medicare Has No Official Sales Reps: Be wary of any salesperson who says that he/she is a Medicare representative. Medicare does not send “representatives” to solicit your business.

* No Marketing in Educational or Care Settings: Federal regulations prohibit the marketing of Medicare products in places where health care is delivered (such as a doctor’s office, clinic, or pharmacy counter) or at an educational event.

* No Such Thing as a Free Lunch: Federal regulations prohibit offers of free meals for listening to a sales presentation or for signing up in a particular plan.

* Don’t Let Them Oversell You: Federal regulations prohibit selling additional insurance products during any sales or marketing presentation for a Medicare Advantage or Prescription Drug Plan.

* Read and Understand the Plan: Be sure that the plan that you choose matches your needs and that you can continue to see your current health care providers if you wish. It may be very difficult or even impossible to “undo” your selection later.

The California Department of Insurance can be contacted at 1-800-927-HELP (4357) or Medicare information is available at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) or