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Pitching Private Medicare Plans: An Analysis of Medicare Advantage and Prescription Drug Plan Advertising

This Kaiser Family Foundation report analyzes the content and frequency of television, print and radio advertisement for private Medicare plans that ran nationally or in one of three local media markets (Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Phoenix, Ariz.; and Greensboro, N.C.) during the marketing and enrollment period for 2008 plan offerings. All ads were identified by VMS, a media monitoring service.

The study finds that insurers last year placed three times more advertisements to promote Medicare Advantage plans than they did to promote stand-alone Medicare drug plans. The ads for Medicare Advantage plans (which provide all Medicare benefits and often additional benefits) were estimated to cost more than twice as much than for stand-alone drug plan ads.

The majority of Medicare Advantage ad occurrences explicitly identified whether they were promoting a Medicare HMO, PPO, private fee-for-service or other specific type of plan. The one in five that did not specify a type of Medicare Advantage plan could leave people on Medicare and their families unaware of the plan’s potential restrictions on choice of physicians and other providers. The Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008 includes a provision to address this concern, requiring insurers to include the type of plan by Jan. 1, 2010.

In Medicare Advantage print ads, two thirds of all occurrences included a general statement indicating restrictions and limitations may apply – but always in the fine print. None of the HMO print ads included language describing provider network restrictions, as suggested in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) marketing guidelines.

was authored by Xiaomei Cai, Gary Kreps, Jim McAuley, and Xiaoquan Zhao, of George Mason University, and Michelle Kitchman Strollo, Tricia Neuman, and Kim Boortz, of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Report (.pdf)