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Dear Matt,

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!

Thanks,

Jim B.


Jim,

Thanks for the question!  I love local, field-based independent Medicare insurance agents.  There.  I said it.  I think they are an extremely important 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 policy or polices 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.  Below, I give you four questions to ask. I list a total of ten questions in chapter eight in my book.  You can also get all ten by downloading my seven FREE helpful Medicare insurance checklists by signing up for the Prepare for Medicare newsletter.

There are a few different types of Medicare insurance agents I address in my book, but this post is specifically about field-based, independent Medicare insurance agents.

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 individually meeting with their potential and current customers.  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, McDonald’s—anywhere that’s convenient for you.

These appointments usually take an hour, sometimes longer, and sometimes require more than one sitting.  Many agents have started doing meetings over Zoom or other videoconferencing as well.

The advantages of using an independent Medicare agent are many.  They usually know what Medicare insurance plans are available where you live, which companies are new, and which have been around for years.  They know which companies are rolling out new and exciting plans, and which ones are on their way out of the area.

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 know 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.

Annual Medicare Housekeeping

Great field-based independent Medicare agents proactively reach out to you every fall to do an annual plan review with you to go over your existing coverage to see if it’s still the right plan for you. They know when prescription drug formularies change, when prices go up, and when benefits go down. They make sure 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 helping you navigate the Medicare maze on your behalf, find a really good field-based agent. They can be invaluable.

Field-based Medicare insurance agents are a rare breed due to the relatively low numbers of agents specializing in Medicare insurance across the country. I’d also guess that out of the 90,000-120,000 licensed, trained, certified, and appointed Medicare insurance agent pool, more than a third of them are telephonic agents, which means field-based agents are even rarer.

Interview Your Medicare Insurance Agent

Most independent Medicare agent introductions happen by referral.  Lots of 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 a good 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.

Wait, what?

Yep. You need to ask your potential Medicare insurance agent-for-life some extremely specific questions to make sure they are a person you’ll want to keep on your team. A good agent can sell you an insurance policy. A great agent, 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 because, ideally, he or she is helping you review your coverage annually and helping you with any customer service problems throughout the year when they 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 everything in life, only a small percentage of Medicare insurance agents are top-notch experts in their field. 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.

Remember, it’s important to find a top-notch, experienced, knowledgeable, super-professional Medicare insurance agent you can count on for life. Here are four questions you should ask your potential agent over the phone before scheduling any next steps or in-person appointments.

  1. How long have you been a Medicare insurance agent? (Needs to be over three years.)
  2. Do you consider yourself a full-time Medicare insurance agent? (Needs to be a yes.)
  3. Do you sell Medicare Advantage plans as well as Medicare Supplement plans? (Needs to be yes.)
  4. How many companies do you represent? (Needs to be a minimum of three, including a smattering of the big national ones—United Healthcare, Humana, Aetna, and Mutual of Omaha, for example.)

You’re looking to weed out the high-pressure, move-fast salesperson who just wants to get in and get out of the appointment with a sale. This is why, when the agent calls you, you call them, or the agent shows up in-person (only if you’ve invited them, of course), 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 questions@prepareformedicare.com and I’ll pick a few for a future blog post!

To your wealth, wisdom, and wellness!

-matt feret

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. He’s also the host of The Matt Feret Show.

He’s held leadership roles at numerous Fortune 500 Medicare health insurers in sales, marketing, operations, product development and strategy for over 20 years.  Matt holds a BA from Virginia Tech and an MHA from Washington University in St. Louis. 

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