How to Select an Agent

Turning 65 in the United States can be one of the most stressful periods of a person’s life. Within a matter of several months, you’re faced with difficult decisions, non-stop phone calls, and having to navigate often unhelpful and bureaucratic institutions just to ensure your affairs are in order. On top of those challenges, far too many seniors find out the hard way that what I call, the Senior Space is rife with bad actors.

Certainly, within the Medicare space, I have no shortage of stories I’ve heard from clients who’ve had bad prior experiences with insurance agents, or worse, scammers who pose as agents or government workers. As a result, many people are soured by the whole experience, and out of frustration, give up on trying to figure it out, or even give up on enrolling in Medicare altogether, potentially missing out on benefits they spent their whole working lives to be able to participate in. Additionally, Medicare and retirement are confusing, and there are so few opportunities for seniors to speak to an actual human person that can help them.

After recently working with a client who was enrolled in a plan by an unethical agent without their consent, I resolved to write this piece in the hopes of educating people on how best to select an agent to work with and protect their personal information. And so I compiled the following list to help:

  1. Ask the agent how they received your information.

Most people get contacted by insurance agents about Medicare products sporadically over the phone, but can only legally do so in response to an information request, or some other form of permission to contact you. If you ask them this question, they should be able to provide a clear answer.

  1. Ask the agent who they work for.

This seems obvious, but there are follow-ups to this question that can really paint a picture of who you’re discussing your case with:

  • For instance, people calling you, claiming to be with Social Security or Medicare. It should be known that the SSA generally doesn’t call people unless they have requested a call. (To find out more about how to spot Social Security scams click here
  • Confirm that the agency they work for actually exists. Check out their website, and see if their business is listed on Google.
  1. Ask the agent if they represent one insurer or multiple.

I’m going to attempt to make this point while also pointing out my bias. As an agent who represents many insurers, I have the ability to offer comparative information on details that an agent who only represents one, might not. Furthermore, because commissions and compensation are set by the state, one insurer doesn’t pay more than another for enrollment, so there is no monetary incentive to prefer one insurer to another based on commissions. However, this does not mean that independent agents are always impartial actors and that captive agents cannot provide good service, but it does mean that you may or may not want to do more comparative shopping on your own, in light of the fact that every agent has the incentive to enroll you in a plan, and knowing how they are compensated can give you insight into better decision making.

  1. Insist on a Scope of Appointment.

This is a very specific piece of industry information. It is a document that gives the agent legal permission to discuss plan details with you, and also records the date of your appointment to speak with them. Agents are required to do this in order to provide proof that the patient received an explanation of the plan they are (considering) enrolling in. You can ask for a copy for your own records, and if you’re ever enrolled in a plan without your consent, the absence, or fraudulent existence of this document can strengthen your claim, and set into motion disciplinary investigations for unethical insurance activity.

  1. Insist on a Summary of Benefits before making a decision.

Discussing plan details over the phone or through zoom is considered full enough disclosure for enrollment purposes. In order to provide yourself with extra protection, ask to be sent via mail/e-mail, a Summary of Benefits or Supplement material to look over before making a decision. Granted these plans can be complicated, and difficult to parse through, but even if you don’t have a good handle on what every insurance term means, you can at least confirm the existence of the plan and insurance company by asking for this information. If there is anything about the document that you don’t understand, the agent should be able to explain it to you.

  1. Do not provide your address or Medicare number before you’ve decided what plan to enroll in.

While agents have to ask demographic questions of potential clients, (i.e. whether or not you’re still working, if you’re a veteran, if you’re collecting SSRI, etc.) in terms of personal information, agents do not need anything except for your contact information, zip code, county, date of birth, names of doctors, names and dosages of prescriptions, and, if applicable, your Medicaid Number in order to research a plan for you. All other sensitive necessary information; your address, and your Medicare number are not necessary until it is time for enrollment. And your Social Security number is never necessary for Medicare Advantage or Medicare Supplement plan enrollment. 

  1. Qualify the agent.

This seems straightforward, but maybe not how. You’ve already looked into their agency and have decided to give them a shot. Ask yourself these important questions when speaking with them: Is this agent giving me useful, factual information? Are they being transparent about their work, and taking the time to explain things to me? Are they willing to answer my questions? Is this agent knowledgeable about Medicare and Medicare plans? Do they conduct themselves professionally and respect my time? If the answer is ‘yes’ to these questions then the likelihood of this agent being an asset to you is much more likely. 

Our job as agents is to make this process easier for you, not harder. And a good agent can look out for your interests in this arena for years to come. So it’s important to go with someone who has taken the time to earn your trust and confidence, as well as produce work that saves you time and energy. With a little vigilance, you can protect yourself, and maximize your coverage. If you’re just getting started on the Medicare process, check out our article, The Four Best Ways To Prepare For Medicare.

Turning 65?

Turning 65

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Book your appointment with one of our specialists now!