Who can help me answer all these questions?

Enrolling in Medicare can be accomplished in several ways; through a call center, online over the internet, or through an independent agent. The important thing to remember is you control the process no matter what avenue of enrollment you choose.

Online Enrollment

There are several website where a Medicare beneficiary can directly enroll into Medicare health plan options, namely; Medicare Supplements (Medigap), Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage), Part D (Prescription Drug), and through insurance company websites.

Pros: Complete anonymity, no one knows you, no dealing with any individual person, no one coming to your home, enrollment completely done in the privacy of your online location.

Cons: Requires some sophistication of computer literacy, the ability to weigh advantages and compare plans, ability to understand insurance terminology, and no individual to ask direction from. There is no ongoing service, every time you seek help the person responding to you does not know your concerns or health care needs. You may be directed to call Customer Service where you will be required to re-iterate your questions and concerns to several people, additionally you will be required to navigate a “phone tree” to speak with a real person. Many times the Customer Service is “out sourced” to another country where English is not the customer service agent’s first language. Essentially, you may speak with someone who has little or no interested in you personally or your frustrations and concerns. There is no “personal touch”.

Call Centers

Call centers function much like online enrollment, except that you will be interacting with an agent. Most insurance companies have their own call centers. Also, in the Medicare space there are commercial call centers that many agents working “phone banks”, taking inbound calls and also making outbound calls. Unlike online enrollment, call center employees are motivated and encouraged to handle as many calls per hour and are compensated according to a set quota of calls completed and number of people they enroll. At least with online enrollment you can go at your own pace.

Pros: Quick enrollment.

Cons: Agents are pushed to work quickly, enroll quickly, and worse of all provide little to no customer service. If you have service needs and call the call center, remember you will not speak with the same person that enrolled you. You will also be directed to call the insurance company customer service center. No interpersonal relationships are created. The call center concept is to enroll, “one call and done.” All of the cons associated with enrollment apply to call centers.

Independent Agent

Since the beginning of the insurance industry, independent agents have been the primary driving force between the insurance companies and the consumer. Independent insurance agents are licensed by individual state insurance departments and their activities are in compliance with rules and regulations established by each state’s Insurance Commissioner. Additionally, independent agents must complete training and certification by individual insurance companies. Most independent agents complete the certification process with all of the major insurance companies within their area of service. The independent agent wants to represent as many insurance companies as possible. The advantage of this concept can best be illuminated in this way; imagine you are shopping for shoes, you go into the shoe store and all that is offered is one particular size, if you desire to buy your shoes at this location you must purchase something that may not fit well at all. The independent agent has all the sizes available, he can find the right fit for you.

Pros: The agent works for you, you are the focus. It is in the agent’s best interest to provide ongoing service, answer any of your questions, to run interference for you when and if you need help with the insurance company. The agent thrives on referral business and the only way to generate referrals is to take care of his clients. An independent agent also knows the ancillary products that can enhance your health and wellness, and help you squeeze the most benefit from your plan and circumstance. Independent agents can be a fountain of knowledge and welcome your calls and concerns. Independent agents enjoy developing interpersonal relationships and being of service.

Cons: The quality of the agent can be the biggest speed bump. No one wants to deal with a pushy, self- interested agent. Agents receive their compensation through enrolling consumers; this has advantages, but can also lead to agents that only have the desire to fulfill their own needs, income.

This leaves you with “how do I find a good agent?” Please take a look at the tab titled “How to recognize a Good or Bad Agent”.