Amid high US inflation, online insurance offers are fooling seniors

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Washington (AFP) – A Facebook ad promises free dental care for older Americans hit hard by rising medical bills. Another, on Instagram, offers free groceries in exchange for an email and phone number.

But the ads are misleading at best.

The problem of Medicare deceptive marketing is so serious that a US congressional committee has asked 15 states to investigate. Major insurance companies, worried about their reputations and potential fines, began to take notice.

“If there’s money to be made by finding customers for a particular product or service, chances are a business is trying to get people to click on links on Facebook,” he said. said John Breyault, fraud and scam expert at National Consumers. League.

Between 2020 and 2021, complaints from tens of millions of Americans age 65 and older eligible for federal health insurance more than doubled, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Many complaints mention companies peddling Medicare Advantage plans, which are provided by private companies.

Online offerings reviewed by AFP hint at genuine benefits in some of these schemes. “Flex cards,” for example, are offered to some chronically ill beneficiaries to help pay for out-of-pocket expenses.

“With inflation taking a bigger bite out of people’s wallets for things like groceries, gas and other day-to-day expenses, an ad promising your help could be particularly appealing,” Breyault said.

Claims for free dental care and grocery cards have been circulating widely on social media since January 2022, when enrollment in Medicare Advantage began.

But the benefits are only available to a relatively small audience. And as older, usually unpaid citizens are hit by rising prices, watchdogs say they could be misled into changing their plans during traditional Medicare enrollment in October.

“Money in Play”

Over the past nine months, dozens of Facebook pages have promoted free grocery and dental cards in hundreds of posts in English and Spanish – some of which were amplified as ads and then removed. for violating platform policies, according to an analysis by AFP.

A Facebook page called Senior Savings Club has promoted a webpage promising a “free grocery spending card” in dozens of posts, according to the Facebook Ad Library, a public archive of paid ads on Meta platforms. .

The terms and conditions of the site link to another website owned by Assurance IQ, a subsidiary of the American insurance company Prudential Financial. Fortune 500 company spokesman Bill Launder said a marketing company created the video ad.

“Prudential, through its Insurance IQ business unit, has terminated this affiliate marketing relationship due to concerns about deceptive marketing practices,” he told AFP.

Other marketing companies also appear to run ads and posts on Facebook with misleading claims.

A Facebook account sharing a webpage that advertises “free vision and dental benefits” — which Medicare does not typically provide — is operated by WeCall Media. The North Carolina company says on its website that it generates leads for clients such as Assurance and State Farm, another insurance company.

David Lipschutz, associate director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy, said there are “very strong incentives” for companies to push Medicare Advantage plans over other types of federal health insurance because agents can earn more commission.

“There’s a lot of money to be made and a lot of money at stake,” he said.

AFP contacted WeCall for comment, but no response was received.

‘Do your research’

In comments on dozens of posts reviewed by AFP, Facebook users said they never received the promised grocery cards or dental care – and that chasing after those deals can have serious consequences. unintended consequences.

In a May 2022 letter to U.S. congressional leaders, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners said states have seen an increase in consumer complaints about “inappropriate or confusing marketing practices” that lead people to buy shots “without fully understanding the cover”.

“It’s possible for some people to get some of the things that are advertised,” Lipschutz said. “But what’s completely omitted is that you have to join Plan X to do so, which could completely mess up your health coverage.”

To avoid being fooled, Amy Nofziger, director of fraud victim support at AARP, formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons, suggested people “take it easy and do your research.” .

“A lot of ads on social media are unverified as people think,” she said.

About Ricardo Schulte

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