Consumer / Employer, Payers

Report: 7 Ways Medicare Advantage Is Being Marketed on TV

There are concerns that Medicare Advantage TV ads are misleading patients. A new KFF analysis of Medicare Advantage TV ads found that the ads often rely on celebrity endorsements and suggest that seniors are missing out on benefits that they're entitled to.

Medicare Advantage (MA) enrollment is on the rise, partially due to “marketing efforts” by insurers and brokers, according to a KFF report published Wednesday. Enrollment in MA plans has doubled since 2010.

CMS has recently worked to reduce misleading MA marketing. To understand how MA is being marketed on TV and what the implications are for patients, KFF analyzed ad data from the Wesleyan Media Project. The analysis included all English-language TV ads that aired on national and local markets from October 1, 2022, to December 7, 2022. Here are seven findings:

1. During this period, there were nearly 650,000 Medicare ad airings total and more than 9,500 airings a day. Most of the TV ads were sponsored by health insurers and one in five were sponsored by brokers and other third-party groups.

2. Medicare Advantage TV ads accounted for 85% of all airings for the open enrollment period for 2023. The rest of the ads were other kinds of plans like Medigap or standalone Part D plans or just ads about the open enrollment period in general.

3. About 27% of MA airings included a government-issued Medicare card or a similar image. In addition, 16% of MA airings included a phone number that was described as the “Medicare” hotline, but it wasn’t the government-sponsored 1-800-Medicare line. The latter was mostly done by brokers and third-party entities.

“Both CMS and the Senate Finance Committee have expressed concern that the use of the Medicare name, logo, or card in private marketing materials could confuse beneficiaries and lead them to believe they are contacting an official government resource,” KFF said. “New regulations from CMS aim to address this issue by prohibiting the use of the Medicare card, except for educational purposes.”

4. Some of the ads “suggested that people with Medicare miss out on benefits to which they are entitled if they are not enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan,” KFF said. This was more common among brokers and other third-party entities compared to health insurers.

“Language such as ‘missing’ or ‘entitled’ may give some viewers the impression that they have incomplete coverage or have overlooked a necessary enrollment step if they receive their Medicare coverage from traditional Medicare,” the researchers said.

5. About 92% of MA ad airings mentioned extra benefits like dental, vision and hearing. Another 85% mentioned the possibility of lower out-of-pocket spending. Only 4% mentioned quality ratings.

6. More than one in four ad airings for MA plans featured seniors being active through activities like hiking or yoga. Only 4% showed seniors with visible disabilities and 1% showed seniors with a serious illness.

7. More than half of the MA ad airings sponsored by brokers and other third parties used celebrity endorsements, such as Joe Namath and Lionel Richie. Only 3% of insurer-sponsored airings featured celebrities.

“There’s no question that Medicare has become a lot more complex. As enrollment in Medicare Advantage plans has grown, the annual marketing madness can create confusion for people who are trying to make difficult decisions about coverage,” said KFF President and CEO Drew Altman in a news release. “We heard directly from seniors in focus groups that the ads were often perceived as misleading and left them feeling overwhelmed. This isn’t a good basis on which to make a choice that will affect your health and pocketbook.”

Photo: designer491, Getty Images