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Commerce deploys team of secret shoppers in senior protection operation

Surveillance team to keep watchful eye on sales and marketing tactics at Medicare workshops

November 21, 2012


For Immediate Release:

SAINT PAUL, MN – With Medicare open enrollment underway, the Minnesota Department of Commerce has taken steps to protect Minnesota seniors from unlawful sales and marketing practices. In partnership with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, undercover Commerce investigators are being deployed across the state to attend Medicare workshops and public events to ensure insurance companies and agents are in compliance with laws and regulations. 

“Minnesota seniors need helpful advice on Medicare options, and we are taking steps to prevent seniors from being deceived by aggressive marketing tactics,” said Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman. “We are fortunate to have strong regulations in place to protect seniors during open enrollment, and it is our job to enforce those laws. The ‘Secret Shopper Program’ holds the sponsors accountable to ensure seniors get the straight-forward information they need about Medicare.” 

The annual open enrollment period for Medicare runs from October 15 through December 7, 2012. To assist seniors reevaluate their Medicare coverage, insurance companies and agents are holding over 1,000 workshops and public events throughout the state.  These gatherings are regulated by the federal government’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services to ensure only approved and appropriate marketing materials and practices are being used.

The goal of the “Secret Shopper Program” is to make sure sponsors comply with applicable laws, regulations, and policies.  Regulators gain a better understanding of the marketing, beneficiary, education, and enrollment practices used by insurance companies and agents. If there are emerging problems or issues at these open-enrollment events, the program can respond rapidly to stop any unlawful practices and alert seniors to the problem.

Marketing requirements provide guidance to insurance companies and agents when presenting Medicare Advantage plans to seniors.  All pre-enrollment marketing materials and promotional activities must be in compliance with Center for Medicare and Medicaid guidelines.  Sales agents are required to arrange with consumers in advance with a full disclosure of what the types of products will be discussed.  High pressure tactics are strictly prohibited as well as the sale of non-health care related products. 

“We know that 99 percent of those in the industry follow the rules and provide a very positive opportunity for seniors to find the Medicare coverage that best fits their needs,” said Commissioner Rothman. “With some bad actors out there, my message to seniors is to shop carefully and contact the Department of Commerce with any questions or concerns.” 

If consumers have any insurance related questions or report suspicious activity, they are encouraged to contact the Minnesota Department of Commerce. The Commerce Department’s Consumer Response Team can be reached by phone at 651-539-1600 or by email at consumer.protection@state.mn.us. Complaints can also be sent by mail to Minnesota Department of Commerce, 85 7th Place East, Suite 500, Saint Paul, MN 55101.