Helping people pick the best Medicare plan can be frustrating for them and for you. Medicare has gone through many changes over the past few years. While there is a wealth of information available on the Internet and from other sources, sometimes the sheer volume of information is simply too much for Medicare beneficiaries to digest. Beneficiaries quickly become overwhelmed and frustrated, and either stay with original Medicare or simply close their eyes and pick any Medicare Advantage (MA) plan — regardless of that plan’s suitability in their particular situation.

Brokers can be an invaluable resource to help break through the clutter of information and help people target the Medicare plans that are best suited to meet their individual needs. Following are a few tips to help you become the broker of choice for the Medicare-eligible population in your area.

  • Don’t wait until the last minute. Recommend to your clients that they start the process as early as possible. There is a lot of information to consider and a number of plans to review, so you want your clients to feel comfortable and not rushed into a decision. If clients wait until the last minute and then are unhappy about their decision, they can make changes between Jan. 1 and March 31 of the next year. However, before they leave one plan, they need to confirm that the plan they want is accepting new members. Medicare beneficiaries may return to original Medicare at any time — but it’s always better for client relations to help them find the right plan in the first place.
  • Help people understand the ABCs (and D) of Medicare. Many people are confused about their options, so make it easy for them. Develop a simple explanation to create a full understanding of the options available to them. It helps your clients realize that you know and understand Medicare and can engender greater trust in your recommendations. Remember:
    • Part A usually costs nothing as people have already paid for it through payroll deductions. It covers hospitalizations. In 2010, for beneficiaries who did not pay for Part A in payroll deductions, the premium is $254 per month for people having 30-39 qarters of Medicare-covered employment, and $461 a month for those who have less than 30 quarters of Medicare-covered employment.
    • Part B costs about $96 per month in 2010 and covers other medical services, such as doctor’s visits.
    • Many people buy Medicare supplemental insurance (commonly referred to as Med supp or Medigap) to cover the services original Medicare does not cover.
    • Medicare Part D covers prescription drugs.

A Medicare beneficiary with original Medicare Parts A and B, a Med supp policy, and a stand alone Part D plan may pay $250 or more each month in premiums.

Medicare Advantage programs are Medicare products that are offered by Medicare through private health insurance companies. They are Medicare-regulated, approved, and monitored, and usually offer more benefits at a lower cost. For instance, unlike original Medicare, MA plans have yearly maximum out-of-pocket cost protection, cover vision and hearing, and may include preventive dental coverage. Medicare Advantage plans are available with or without integrated Part D prescription drug coverage, which may include zero copayments for certain generic medications.

Additionally, private health insurance companies may have longstanding relationships with Medicare to process claims under the original Medicare program.

  • Consider your client’s specific situation. Be prepared. Develop a broad knowledge of four or five of the best plan options in your market and contract with those carriers so that you can offer the best plans available in your area. Then, evaluate the plans to find the one that best meets each specific client’s needs.
  • Only sell as much coverage as your client really needs. Individuals may come to you wanting the most comprehensive plan available, but that may not always be in their best interest. Encourage your clients to spend time reviewing the options and costs, buying only what they need or anticipate that they may need. No one wants to find out they spent too much on anything, especially health insurance.
  • Find a few health plans that offer the information and services you need. Do they have dedicated websites where you can get cost comparisons online to evaluate which plan is the most cost-effective for your client? Can you download marketing materials, enrollment kits, and information guides to help you speak with your clients? Work with the plans that work best for you as they will ultimately help you provide the best service to your client.
  • Find good producer training and certification programs. You have to be certified to sell Medicare Advantage products, but you are busy and may not have time to attend classes in person. Do the plans you are considering offering to your clients have online certification training that you can take at your leisure?
  • Pay attention to details. Make sure you track what you send and when you send it so you and your clients have a record of the transmission. Paper applications can get lost or information can be incomplete without you even knowing it. If you are submitting applications by paper, if something goes wrong you can spend hours reconciling it — which is time you could be spending helping other clients. Submitting applications online is the easiest and most accurate method, and you can have a confirmation in as little as five minutes.
  • Know and keep track of deadlines. This may seem like an obvious recommendation, but it is an important one. If you miss a deadline for a client, not only may they not have coverage in the coming year, but you have probably lost a customer, and possibly many potential customers through negative word-of-mouth.

Glenn Amnott is a sales director for CIGNA Senior & Retiree Services, and currently manages CIGNA’s distribution channel that distributes CIGNA’s individual Medicare Advantage plans. He can be reached at glenn.amnott@cigna.com.