December 6, 2023
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As US inflation rises, online insurance fools seniors

A Facebook ad promises free dental insurance to seniors in the US. Another, on Instagram, offers free food in exchange for email and phone calls. Although attractive, these ads can be misleading.

The problem of abusive healthcare telemarketing is so serious that congressional committees have ordered 15 states to launch investigations into it. Large insurance companies, concerned about their reputation and possible fines, take into account.

“If you can make money by finding customers for a particular product or service, it’s possible that some company will try to get people to click on Facebook links,” said John Brayault, a fraud expert at the National Consumers League.

Between 2020 and 2021, claims by millions of Americans age 65 and older who are eligible for federal insurance doubled, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Many of the complaints refer to companies that sell Medicare Advantage plans offered by private companies.

Online offers reviewed by AFP indicate the actual benefits of some of these plans. For example, users with chronic illnesses are offered “flex cards” to help pay for expenses.

“As inflation wastes people’s money on things like food and gas, among other everyday expenses, an ad that promises to help you can be particularly appealing,” Breyault says.

Advertisements for dental insurance and grocery cards have been circulating widely on social media since January 2022, when Medicare Advantage applications begin.

But the benefits accrue only to a relatively small audience. Like the elderly, self-employed citizens are also affected by rampant inflation. They could be tricked into changing their plans on Medicare underwriting applications in October, consumer advocates warn.

– “Money is at stake” –

Over the past nine months, dozens of Facebook pages have advertised grocery cards and dental insurance in hundreds of publications — in English and Spanish — some of which were advertised as ads and later removed for violating the site’s policies, an AFP analysis shows. .

A Facebook page called Senior Savings Club promoted a website that promised a “free grocery shopping card” in dozens of posts, according to Facebook’s Ad Library, a public archive of paid ads on Facebook’s sites. target.

The Terms and Conditions link on the Site will redirect you to another web page of Assurance IQ, a subsidiary of Prudential Financial, an American insurance company. A marketing firm has been tasked with creating the video ad, said Bill Lander, a spokesman for the firm.

“Prudential, through its Assurance IQ business unit, ended this affiliate marketing relationship due to concerns about deceptive marketing practices,” Lander explained to AFP.

Other marketing companies also seem to continue to run posts related to Facebook ads and false promises.

A Facebook account sharing the website “Free Dental and Eye Benefits,” which medical insurance doesn’t usually cover, is managed by WeCall Media. The North Carolina-based company says on its website that it generates leads for clients such as Assurance and State Farm, among other insurance companies.

David Lipschutz, associate director of the Centers for Medicaid, said there are “very strong incentives” for companies to impose Medicare Advantage plans on other federal health programs because agents can earn higher commissions.

“A lot of money has to be spent and a lot of money is at stake,” says Lipschutz.

Contacted by AFP for its comments, the WeCall company has yet to respond.

– “Tread carefully” –

In comments from dozens of publications reviewed by AFP, Facebook users said they never received promised grocery cards or dental services, and that pursuing these offers could lead to unintended consequences.

In a May 2022 letter to congressional leaders, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners said states have seen an increase in consumer complaints about “confusing or inappropriate marketing practices.”

“It’s possible that some people get something out of being advertised,” Lipschutz said. “But what’s completely avoided is that you have to enroll in Plan X to do so, which completely replaces your health insurance.”

To avoid getting ripped off, Amy Nofziger, director of fraud victim support for AARP, the American Association of Retired Persons, advises users to “exercise caution and do your own investigation.”

“Many ads on social networks aren’t as peer-reviewed as we’d like them to be,” he assures.

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