Over the years, I’ve spent thousands of hours online reviewing Medicare websites. What’s available is confusing, incomplete, wrong or not quite objective enough for me. These websites fit neatly into three distinct categories.
Insurance company websites can certainly be helpful, but looking for Medicare information at an insurance company website is much like doing new car research: The Ford website will tell you everything you need to know about all the Ford options they have, but don’t/won’t tell you anything about Honda… or Chevy… or BMW… you get the point. They don’t offer the complete picture or landscape of choices, but they usually do a pretty decent job of providing you company-specific information and the ability to enroll online. Let’s be honest: the ability to enroll online may exist, but your patience will be taxed doing so. Every insurance company website has a different way to enroll, different forms and different pages to navigate to. The experience can be horribly frustrating, leading many people to simply either give up or call the company. If you’re 100% sure you want to buy a policy from a particular policy, then enrolling online is the way to go. If you want to compare different plans from different companies, you’ll have to visit multiple sites and each of them have their own web navigation positives and negatives.
Lead-generation websites are usually insurance agents or agencies that set up a site (or a dozen) to generate leads for themselves or their employees. Often, these sites urge you to share your personal information, and then sell that information to a local agent or agency in your ear. From what I’ve seen, they give you just enough information to get your interest piqued, then encourage you to contact them, send them your email address, etc. They then either hound you to BUY BUY BUY or sell/give your information to call centers and/or insurance agents. Their sites are full of long, complex definitions and articles chock-full of keywords the search engines love. They have to do this in order for Google, Bing or Yahoo to pay attention to them in hopes that when somebody searches for, “Medicare” their site ends up on the first page of the search results. In all cases, unless you want to be contacted by someone trying to sell you something, stay away from these.
Medicare.gov is the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) homepage. Those are the folks who run (you guessed it!) Medicare and Medicaid. If you’re ready to enroll in Medicare or you’re all set to enroll in a particular product, this is a good place to go but it’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. However, there is a ton of content, and you could easily spend thousands of hours on their site reading through various items. Information overload is easy to experience on this site, especially if you’re brand-new to Medicare.
Learn to love medicare.gov. The site does a decent job of helping you search for Medicare Advantage and PDP (Part D) plans, but is woefully lacking on helping you choose Medicare Supplemental plans. Medicare.gov allows you to enter in your prescription drugs and pharmacy of choice. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do a great job of letting you know your doctor or hospital of choice is in the plan’s network. This is mostly due to the fact that Medicare PPO and HMO networks are in a state of constant flux; doctors and hospitals get added and removed on a monthly basis. My advice is to use this site to enter in your prescriptions and pharmacy, and see what spits out. Once you’ve narrowed down your top 3 choices, call those insurance companies and ask them if your doctors are in their plan. They’ll try to sell you a policy over the phone. Go ahead and buy it, if you’re ready, or do so online.
Use a good independent Medicare insurance agent. Note I said, “good” Medicare insurance agent, because they’re not all good and finding the good ones can be a chore. Good agents will be able to narrow down the choices based on your financial goals, coverage needs, doctor usage and health status. I’ve got a series of posts queued up on Medicare insurance agents, so check back soon!