The government should consider setting up an online exchange that consumers could use to choose Medicare plan agents, according to a team of analysts at The Commonwealth Fund.
The government should also consider setting up a system that consumers could use to rate their Medicare plan agents, the analysts say.
The new “Medicare agent marketplace” could help consumers search for Medicare plan agents based on the agents’ qualifications and ratings, the analysts suggest.
The analysts have included those recommendations in a recent report on how agents and brokers influence consumers’ efforts to buy Medicare Advantage, Medicare supplement (Medigap) insurance and Medicare Part D prescription drug plan coverage.
The Commonwealth Fund is a New York-based focused on health care system policy issues. Its research helped lead to the creation of the current Affordable Care Act health insurance framework.
Medicare Agent Yardsticks
The Commonwealth Fund analysts tried to assess the quality of agents’ advice by looking at the product menus in some of the online tools that agents use to help clients choose plans.
The analysts compared the plan menus for three online services in five counties with the product listings on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ own Medicare.gov website.
Some agents and consumers have complained about Medicare.gov site design choices, such as how Medicare.gov provides information about the drugs specific plans cover.
The analysts focused solely on the plan menu comparisons, not on how well the sites worked, or how clearly information was presented.
The analysts found that:
- The broker tools listed an average of 43% of the plans listed for the five communities studied on Medicare.gov.
- The broker tools listed 65% of the Medicare Part D prescription drug plans.
- Only one site listed Medigap insurance plans, and it showed just 18% of the available Medigap plans.
The report analysts acknowledge that agents may recommend plans available outside of the tools, and plans that they themselves cannot sell.
“However, there is no explicit imperative or financial incentive for agents to behave this way,” the analysts write. “Agents are not required to disclose that they do not offer all available plans, and beneficiaries may not recognize that agents may not present all options available to them.”
An agent market place program and public education efforts could help compensate for the lack of disclosure requirements,” the analysts say.