The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services published its long-awaited changes to the guidelines on the marketing of Medicare Advantage plans. But for insurance agents who conduct themselves with integrity on behalf of carriers and perform due diligence for beneficiaries and their providers, and understand the value of their customer-first role, what’s really changing?
It seems like only yesterday that insurance agents who worked in Medicare were learning to navigate the other rules intended to clean up poor sales and marketing practices. With these new CMS rules, many insurance agents might feel as though they are subject to additional restrictive red tape and regulations. These rules may appear to be hindering relationships with those they serve.
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Understanding the why of Medicare Advantage rules
To address the outlier issues seen of late, the spirit of what CMS wants to do is to protect beneficiaries exploring Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D coverage from confusing and misleading marketing practices while providing access to accurate and necessary information to make coverage choices. Advertisements that generically promote Medicare Advantage benefits, along with examples of sales tactics that do not meet the holistic needs of the beneficiary, have been this year’s hottest topic for their misleading messaging.
The new CMS rules seek to protect the beneficiary and the industry by preventing predatory marketing, strengthen oversight of third-party organizations to detect (and prevent) using deceptive marketing tactics, restrict using Medicare’s logo and change third party lead generation practices, such as the selling and reselling of beneficiary contact information.
If it hurts, you are doing it wrong
If reactions of the past are repeated, the reverberation within the industry will sound like an overly dramatized, hard-hitting, collective gut-punch to an insurance agent’s ability to make a living. But it’s a continuance of strengthening the importance of the insurance agent-consumer relationship, and I applaud it. These new oversights are a much-needed course correction to level the playing field that has been missing from this industry. I applaud it, and I say this from experience.
I have the great fortune to have been a part of this great industry serving beneficiaries and insurance agents for nearly 30 years. I served in a variety of impactful roles such as customer service representative, licensed insurance agent and several distribution leadership positions. And through those years, one constant remained — the need for trusted insurance agents.
Insurance agents make up the critical infrastructure that helps beneficiaries translate and navigate the myriad of carriers, their products, coverage options and provider access. Agents provide the most important service that CMS itself plays in our daily interactions. Insurance agents are vital to the Medicare ecosystem and should be rallied around and supported at every turn, including when new rules are introduced.
Being a trusted insurance agent is the core of selling. Our focus as an industry must focus on creating an environment where a network of insurance agents is provided with the right tools, the right guidance and the best products, while ensuring they’re supported every step of the way. This puts agents in a position to ensure that they, along with those that they serve, can thrive and succeed. At the end of the day, we all want customers to know that insurance agents are taking the proper, most ethical, most client-first approaches when representing health insurance products and the carriers they represent. This is at the core of our commitment to our industry partners and clients.
Life experience = professionalism and integrity
When my parents qualified for Medicare, I immediately connected them with an insurance agent I trusted and knew would place their best interests first. With my experience, that was possible in the way it should be possible for everyone. The result? My parents felt that added layer of protection knowing they were in good hands with the right insurance agent and the right coverage for their needs. I look forward to the call every year from my parents telling me how their insurance agent met their needs and put them at ease.
One of the missing pieces is the understanding that insurance is very much a foreign language to many people — both in how it’s written, discussed and administered. The right insurance agent is a translator and trusted to help those newly eligible for Medicare and for those who have been Medicare beneficiaries for years.
The best defense to CMS’s new rules is to continue playing the right offense. This means working with insurance agents, young and veteran, to always take an ethical, client-first approach when selling health insurance. And not just helping them with insurance but helping them to understand the health care system and how to navigate it effectively.
Trust is a powerful ally in the Medicare market
Individuals and families in need of health and life insurance look to insurance agents representing reputable companies within their communities. Insurance agents have persevered despite constant predictions of their demise. If they provide services that insurance buyers and carriers value, they’ll remain an essential part of the insurance marketplace. My advice on being a trusted insurance agent is to invest substantial time into clients and their needs, as opposed to information dumping and enrollment submission. Become a valued resource rather than just a provider of basic policy information and administration. Understand the bigger picture that we represent our industry and our role within the industry every day, within every interaction.
When considering the new CMS rules, please ask yourself; “How will this really change the way I foster and build relationships?” If you are among the thousands of insurance agents who demonstrate a culture of core values based on delivering insurance products responsibly and with a service attitude, then you may not notice the difference in your techniques.
On the other hand, if these new guidelines change the way you conduct business, then one of two things must be considered. One, you are in the wrong profession and see insurance sales as solely transactional rather than a relationship-driven business. Two, your sales techniques don’t represent a client-focused, service-minded, value-based business practice. If you checked the box on either, it’s time to do it the right way, or go home and leave this industry to the professionals.
Every industry has seen its share of bad actors, and that’s never going to change. The new CMS rules look to level the playing field and eliminate misaligned practices. Our job is to continue supporting and ensuring that our network of insurance agents have a level playing field and continue to conduct their profession with integrity, honesty and with a customer-first attitude.
Bryan Keeven is senior vice president, health distribution brokerage division of AmeriLife. Bryan may be contacted at [email protected].
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