I’m normally the DIY type, but I’m really struggling to make sense of Medicare.gov and all of the Medicare commercials on TV. Help!
The Independent Field-Based Medicare Insurance Agents
I love local, field-based independent Medicare insurance agents. There. I said it. I think they are a crucial person to have on your financial and retirement planning team. Local independent Medicare insurance agents help people decide what Medicare Advantage, Medicare Supplement, or Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan insurance policies are right for them. That’s not to say all agents are created equally; you’ve got to do some digging and ask questions to make sure they’re an expert Medicare insurance agent. Later in the article, I’ll give you four questions to ask. I list a total of ten questions in chapter eight of my book. You can also get all ten by downloading my seven FREE helpful Medicare insurance checklists when you sign up for the Prepare for Medicare newsletter.
Meeting with a Field-Based Independent Medicare Insurance Agents
I address a few different Medicare insurance agents in my book, but this post is specifically about field-based, independent Medicare insurance agents.
These agents live in your local area and sell Medicare insurance from multiple companies. They sell Medicare insurance policies primarily by meeting their potential and current customers individually. Often, they will come right to your house and review your options across the kitchen table. If you do not want them in your home, they will meet you at a Starbucks, library, a McDonald’s, or anywhere convenient.
The appointments usually take an hour, sometimes longer, and may require more than one sitting. Many agents have started doing meetings over Zoom or other videoconferencing platforms.
These agents are normally hyper-connected to their local insurance company representatives and know what’s going on with each company they represent. They know which doctors and hospitals are in one company’s Medicare Advantage PPO or HMO network and not in others. They also understand which plan is hot that year and which plans are not. They know all the particular state-based rules around Medicare Supplement insurance. They take pride in providing great customer support and service and often handhold their clients through many decisions.
The Advantages of Using an Independent Medicare Insurance Agent
There are many advantages of using an independent Medicare agent. They usually know which Medicare insurance plans are available in your area and have been around the longest. They know which companies are rolling out new and exciting plans and which ones are on their way out of the area.
These medicare agents are typically hyper-connected to their local insurance company representatives and know what’s happening with each company they represent. They know which doctors and hospitals are in one company’s Medicare Advantage PPO or HMO network and not in others. They know which plan is hot that year and which plans are not.
The independent medicare agents understand all the particular state-based rules around Medicare Supplement insurance. They take pride in providing excellent customer support and service and often handhold their clients through many decisions.
Annual Medicare Housekeeping
Great field-based independent Medicare agents proactively reach out to you every fall to review with you to see if your existing coverage is still the right plan for you. They know when prescription drug formularies change, when prices go up, and when benefits go down. They ensure you get your ID cards when you buy a new policy. They’re available via phone almost 24/7. You might even get a birthday or holiday card from them. If you value having a local advocate help you navigate the Medicare maze on your behalf, find an excellent field-based agent. They can be invaluable.
However, field-based Medicare insurance agents are a rare breed due to the relatively low number of Medicare insurance agents across the country. I’d also guess that out of the 90,000-120,000 licensed, trained, certified, and appointed Medicare insurance agents in the pool, more than a third of them are telephonic agents, which means field-based agents are rare.
Interview Your Medicare Insurance Agent
Most independent Medicare agent introductions happen by referral. Many people talk to family and friends. I know of only one website that lists them, but it’s far from comprehensive. Still, it’ll give you an excellent place to start. You can check that out by clicking here.
Once you connect with an independent Medicare insurance agent, you’ll want to interview them. This applies to any field-based agent. You need to ask your potential Medicare insurance agent-for-life some precise questions to ensure they are a person you’ll want to keep on your team. A good agent can sell you an insurance policy. An expert is what you’re looking for here. You should be looking for a Medicare insurance agent you can trust and rely on for a very long time. Ideally, they are helping you review your coverage annually and any customer service problems that may arise.
As I’ve already covered, Medicare insurance agents are a rare breed, but that doesn’t mean 100% of them are experts. Just like any other professional, only a small percentage of Medicare insurance agents are top-notch experts. Your goal is to find one of these great agents. You want to find a low-pressure, consultive salesperson who educates you and guides you through your needs, and helps you find the right fit.
Here are four questions you should ask your potential agent over the phone before scheduling any next steps or in-person appointments:
Q: How long have you been a Medicare insurance agent?
A: You’ll want to ask this to determine whether or not the agent has at least three years of experience.
Q: Do you consider yourself a full-time Medicare insurance agent
A: They must be; this is a non-negotiable.
Q: Do you sell Medicare Advantage plans and Medicare Supplement plans?
A: Their answer to this question needs to be a yes.
Q: How many companies do you represent?
A: You want to ensure that the agent has a minimum of three they represent. With this, they must have a few national healthcare companies in their corner (United Healthcare, Humana, Aetna, and Mutual of Omaha, for example.)
Some Final Pointers on Finding a Medicare Insurance Agent
You’re looking to weed out the high-pressure, move-fast salesperson who just wants to get in and out of the appointment with a sale. When the agent calls you, or you call them (either over the phone or to your home), have some questions ready. My advice is to do this over the phone before setting up an in-person appointment. You may want to interview more than one agent until you find one who answers your questions to your satisfaction.
Jim, thanks again for the question, and good luck finding your Medicare agent-for-life!
I love answering Medicare questions. Send me yours at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll pick a few for a future blog post!
To your wealth, wisdom, and wellness!
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Author Bio Matt Feret is the author of the Prepare for Medicare book series and launched prepareformedicare.com to help people get objective answers to questions about Medicare. Matt is also the host of The Matt Feret Show. He has held leadership roles at numerous Fortune 500 Medicare health insurers in sales, marketing, operations, product development, and strategy for over two decades.