I was appalled to learn yesterday that the Outreach program of the metro-Phoenix office of AARP plans to send poorly-trained volunteers out into various Arizona communities to conduct “informative” presentations on Medicare to interested local residents. My broker and I offer informational sessions on Medicare, and after hearing about this AARP-affiliated opportunity to present on behalf of AARP I gladly signed up for yesterday’s training. I assumed that I and the other would-be presenters would be provided with CMS (Center for Medicare Services)-approved pre-written scripts. I assumed that those invited to the training workshop would have brought to the table at least some expertise in the subject matter.
With the exception of myself and another life insurance agent, the few attendees had little or no knowledge of Medicare products, however. Nor was there to be any script. A few minutes into the 2-4 hour training ( depending on our questions,) I learned that after a quick peruse of Medicare.gov’s “Medicare and You” and some materials the AARP manager had gathered, presenters were to write their own scripts or extemporize. Oh my.
“There is no CMS-approved script?” I asked. “No, we don’t need approval,” I was told. Perhaps YOU don’t, but I and the other agent did if we were to keep our insurance license. We left the meeting.
I am appalled that folks with 2-4 hours of training on Medicare are going to be given what the public will perceive as the full credentials of AARP expertise and trustworthiness, to go out into the community and provide what might well be yet more inaccurate information about a system that is already confusing, and has incredibly serious ramifications for our senior citizens. I have spent several dozen hours learning the ins and outs of Medicare, and still haven’t stopped learning. CMS regulates every presentation I and any other agent or broker provides to the public, as well it should. Each Medicare plan provider requires training and certification – and all of this training repeats each year. It’s THAT important.
The last thing the confused public needs is bad information about Medicare and missed deadlines. Medicare beneficiaries who don’t meet their deadlines due to poor information and misguidance risk health problems and in the case of a couple parts of the program, increased fees each month for the rest of their lives. This is serious business, folks. People with 2-4 hours of training have no business writing their own unsupervised scripts or speaking off the cuff to people who must get the correct information, pricing and deadlines to make the right choices on time, and thus keep themselves healthy and within their fixed budgets.
I want to make clear that I have enormous respect for AARP and am a long-time member. But this program – NOT a national-AARP-sanctioned program – is not one of its finer moments. While the Arizona founder of the program clearly has the best intentions, his decision to put this in the hands of the less-than-well-informed gives me grave concern.
When I left that meeting abruptly I ran to one I had thought I’d be missing – the Palos Verdes Senior Living -based AARP “You’ve Earned a Say” interactive presentation on Social Security and Medicare. I was late and missed the first 30 minutes. I hope to get to another soon, and hear it from start to finish. The two speakers – Ginny Craeger and Ritch Steven – were nationally-sanctioned AARP Lead Volunteer speakers, well-trained, and while not experts they came bearing a power point of well-researched material. They were informative and well-versed in leading a discussion and keeping it on track. The audience was vocal, and very concerned about the future of both programs.
The obstacles for the future of Social Security and Medicare were much the same, according to the AARP speakers – fewer people being born, going to work and paying into Social Security than in past decades. Additionally, more people are collecting and will collect and will live longer than in past decades.
Some of the facts we learned:
- Social Security is a pay-as-you-go plan. By law any excess money it holds above and beyond what it issues to beneficiaries must be invested in safe, secure, liquid, high-quality investment vehicles. That has been the case from day one. The product invested in has been U.S. treasury bonds. The government has never missed a payment and always lived up to its obligation.
- Medicare plans C and D became the auspices of private insurance carriers when it was determined that the cost to the government of running these programs was $14 million beyond what it cost to run plans A and B.
- Our FICA payroll deductions only account for 37 percent of the cost of Medicare. General taxes pay another 42 percent of the bill, and Medicare premiums only pick up 12 percent of the tab. In 2024 Medicare will run out of money to pay all its health care obligations. This pertains to Part A, the hospital care obligation, as Part B is somewhat alleviated by the beneficiaries’ commitment to pay a pre-determined portion of the cost, no matter the increase in its doctor bill and other covered costs.
- Half of Medicare beneficiaries spend at least 17 percent of their income on health care, while the average U.S. adult spends only 12 percent.
- Since 1991 national health care spending in the U.S. has exceeded inflation by an annual average of 2.4 percent, while healthcare costs have increased a compounded 6 percent annually.
- The Affordable Care Act, if enacted exactly as written, is purported to add 10 years to the life of the Medicare program as it now exists. However, the Act has already been altered from its original.
- By 2030 the number of people on Medicare will be double that of beneficiaries in 2000.
” Seventy-five percent of most people’s health care costs are spent in the last six months of their lives,” AARP presenter Ritch Steven told us.
The small audience, made up of folks that ranged from 80ish to 30ish, responded to several questions.
When asked “How confident are you that Social Security will be there for you:”
– 8 were very confident
– 10 were somewhat confident
– 8 were not confident
– 4 didn’t know or didn’t respond
When asked “What is the biggest challenge facing Social Security:”
– 4 thought that fewer workers was the primary obstacle
– 14 blamed the increase in senior numbers to be the biggest problem
– 4 thought the issue was that the government didn’t have enough funds
– 4 blamed other issues such as politics, and the federal government’s having dipped into Social Security monies to pay for other programs.
The audience was asked for suggestions to save the program – “What do you hope happens to Social Security,” ideas included:
- Increase the age to qualify
- Raise or remove the cap for employees and entrepreneurs paying into it
- The wealthy should opt out of receiving Social Security benefits
- The COLA should be reviewed annually
- All of us must suffer, including those already on Social Security
With regard to Medicare the audience was asked, “How important is Medicare to your health?”
24 of the 26 that replied said it was very important, while one called it somewhat important and one simply didn’t know. Only 3 were very confident the program would be there for them, while 16 were somewhat confident, 5 were not confident, and 3 didn’t know.
When asked, “What is the biggest challenge facing the Medicare program?”
– 11 said rising health care costs was the number one problem
– 8 thought that having too few funds was the biggest obstacle
– 2 thought that fewer workers paying into it was its biggest hurdle, and
– 5 thought that the increase in seniors using the system caused the most trouble.
Several folks spoke about their hopes and suggestions for keeping the Medicare program healthy:
“I would be willing to pay more for it because the coverage is well worth it,” said one current female beneficiary in the audience.”
“Get control of the fraud,” said another woman. In response, Steven told us that the Affordable Care Act is designed to help with that, by putting obstacles in the way of the current practice of paying out Medicare claims to providers within 14 days or receipt, and later on down the road perhaps noticing that some claims seemed worth a closer look. Proposed changes would allow Medicare administrators to take the time to investigate where needed before paying claims.
We also learned that that Affordable Care Act would require every congress member and her or his staff to accept state-run insurance rather than any federal option. The thought was that these folks needed “skin in the game.”
When asked what message we would like to send to Congress and whichever candidate remains or becomes president two responses were heard:
“Cut programs to companies that don’t appreciate us,” said one.
“Get private insurance out,” said another. To the latter a clearly-appalled audience member replied, “No, I still want to be able to choose my own health care coverage.”
It is my hope that the woman who suggested that private insurance be removed from the Medicare system – and anyone who agrees with her – reads the first part of what I’ve written here. When it comes to oversight, instruction, help with understanding and application to the various Medicare programs, you would be far better off leaning on the well-trained, licensed, highly-regulated and arduously-supervised insurance agents whose right to earn their living is dependent on their ethics and their obligation to provide you with honest, objective and complete information on the Medicare program. We are the folks who are forbidden, under pain of having our licenses revoked, from doing as Arizona AARP is setting out to do – go unsupervised and ill-trained into any town, any city and any area of the state and provide what could be poorly-understood and highly inaccurate information on a health care program many of you believe you MUST have to lead a healthy life.
Should anyone wish further accurate, detailed information on the Medicare program, I am happy to help. I am not a Social Security expert. That I must leave to others. But whether you turn to me, or Medicare.gov, or another, turn to those whose jobs or long-time commitment it has been to keep abreast of the Medicare program. If your organization would like an informative, no-obligation Medicare presentation, you can reach me at SeniorWellth@gmail.com. I am NOT offering a sales presentation. I am offering good, solid information that will help you make the right Medicare decision at the right time. I am happy to provide that one-on-one as well. While this nationally-backed event was informative, the upcoming Arizona AARP program seems destined to be less than reliable.