A top Democrat says some Medicare Advantage compensation systems encourage agents to shift seniors into new plans even when the new plans are no better than the old plans.

“Giving agents an incentive to switch Medicare beneficiaries into a new plan puts seniors at risk of having fewer benefits and higher costs,” Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, says in a statement. “These sky-high commissions show just how large Medicare Advantage plan profit margins really are.”

Baucus wrote sections of the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008, which require the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to set limits on Medicare Advantage program agent commission structures.

In September 2008, the CMS began requiring that an insurance broker’s commission be the same whether the agent enrolled a senior in a new plan or the same plan in each enrollment period.

CMS officials hope the policy will help keep seniors in the same plan, when possible, and promote continuity in care and coverage, according to staffers in Baucus’s office.

CMS officials should take more steps to limit agent commissions before the upcoming enrollment period begins Nov. 15, Baucus says.

Ovations, a unit of UnitedHealth Group Inc., Minneapolis, that participates in the Medicare Advantage market, put out a statement welcoming further action by CMS officials to regulate broker commissions.

“Earlier this year we voiced support before the Senate Finance Committee in favor of regulation to levelize broker commissions,” Ovations says. “We would also welcome regulation that establishes reasonable industrywide broker commission norms.”