Medicare Advantage Plans Get Lion's Share of Insurers' Ad Dollars

Analysis finds comprehensive packages touted 3 times as often as stand-alone drug offerings

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 17, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Insurers last year placed three times more ads and spent twice as much money to promote more comprehensive Medicare Advantage plans than they did for stand-alone Medicare drug plans, according to a new study.

The analysis, done by the private nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, comes amid increased Congressional attention to Medicare plan marketing practices. The analysis reviewed content and frequency of television, print and radio ads for Medicare plans used nationally or in one of three major markets from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, 2007, the period when beneficiaries revisited their plan choices for the coming year.

"Since ads for Medicare plans tend to be skimpy on basic, descriptive information, beneficiaries and their families really need to do their homework before they choose a plan or decide whether to switch plans during open enrollment," Kaiser CEO and President Drew Altman said in a news release issued by his organization.

The 2009 enrollment season runs from Nov. 15 though Dec. 31, 2008, for Medicare drug plans, and through March for Medicare Advantage plans.

The ads for Medicare Advantage plans touted the program's extra benefits in 71 percent of the placements, often emphasizing vision, preventive care and hearing benefits. More than half those ads also emphasized their plan's lack of, or low, premiums.

However, about 20 percent of the ads did not specify that some Medicare Advantage plans could restrict one's choice of physicians or providers (all insurers will be required to include this type of plan by 2010). Two-thirds of all Medicare Advantage print ads did include general statements about restrictions and limitations that may apply, but these were in the ads' fine print.

Images of seniors with apparent medical needs or frailties were not common in ads, even though 38 percent of Medicare beneficiaries have three or more chronic conditions. In fact, few of either stand-alone or Advantage ads even showed individuals taking medications or an image of medications, the study found.

More information

The Kaiser Family Foundation has more about how advertisers pitch private Medicare plans.

SOURCE: The Kaiser Family Foundation, news release, Sept. 15, 2008
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