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Medicare annual enrollment period starts

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Insurers kicked off the annual enrollment period for 2016 Medicare coverage Thursday.

Consumers can sign up for Medicare Advantage health coverage or Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage from now through Dec. 7.

The average basic Medicare drug plan premium will be $32.50 per month, and the average Medicare Advantage plan premium will be $32.91, according to officials at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

Insurers have complained about the effects of changes in Medicare program reimbursement levels and strategies on plan finances, but they continue to compete hard for private Medicare plan business.

See also: Medicare Advantage plan count rises

UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE:UNH) has a Medicare Advantage and Medicare supplement marketing relationship with AARP.

On the Web, AARP, UnitedHealth, and the UnitedHealth Medicare product program tend to dominate Google and Bing search results for search terms such as “Medicare plans.”

For a user who searches without being logged in to Google or Bing, other organizations that tend to come up high in the results include Aetna Inc. (NYSE:AET); Mutual of Omaha; Express Scripts Inc. (Nasdaq:ESRX); Excel Impact’s site;’s site; and TZ Insurance Solutions’ site.

Some of the organizations with Medicare open enrollment ads on TV include UnitedHealth; Humana Inc. (NYSE:HUM); Aetna and Aetna’s Coventry Health Care unit; and HealthMarkets. 

Another organization, eHealth Inc. (Nasdaq:EHTH), the owner of the site, has working to get attention with a new study showing that the average consumer who compared Medicare drug plans had the potential to save $38 per month on prescription costs. The company says only 6 percent of Medicare enrollees had Medicare drug plans that save them the most possible money on prescription drug out-of-pocket costs.

In the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) public exchange market, marketers have been trying to tell consumers what the exchange system is, and assure consumers who had problems in the past that exchange enrollment systems now work.

In the Medicare product market, many marketing website designers and TV commercial producers seem to be sticking with slogans based on variations on the theme, “Enroll now.”

UnitedHealth and AARP tried to stand out from a pack with a commercial about an older man who has trouble lighting a campfire until “The Man With The Plan,” who talks a little like James Bond, gives him a light.

Humana depends on a man at a whiteboard who explains how a “Humana all-in-one plan” might be able to save viewers money.

The National Council on Aging and some other organizations are trying to use the start of the enrollment period to draw attention to an inflation procedure adjustment wrinkle that could lead to sharp increases in some enrollees Medicare Part B coverage costs.