AUBURN — Brenda Wiemann is troubled by a number of insurance companies' tactics for attracting potential Medicare customers.
She's come across several advertisements for Medicare informational sessions and program advice that do not clearly show they are paid for by insurance companies. Wiemann, director of the Cayuga County Office of the Aging, said she's worried that people will attend these meetings or provide companies with their personal information and not realize they're releasing it to a specific insurance provider.
"This really bothers me that it's so misleading," she told legislators at a Health and Human Services Committee meeting Thursday night.
Wiemann passed around an online advertisement and a copy of a mail flier from two different insurance companies so county legislators could see what she meant.
The online advertisement displayed, "Attend a FREE Medicare Educational Meeting," followed by, "HURRY! Learn more about your Medicare options." But Wiemann said the only option attendees would learn about was what the company WellCare Health Plans would provide. WellCare advertised that it would be holding information sessions at the Holiday Inn in Auburn on several dates in November.
Wiemann also showed the committee a flier that had been mailed to a county resident asking for her name, date of birth, phone number, email address, spouse's name and date of birth, all information the company wrote it needs to see if she qualified for the Medicare Savings Program. It was not clear which insurance provider mailed the flier out, though a disclaimer in smaller type said, "Not affiliated with or endorsed by any state or federal government or Medicare program." Wiemann had the line circled.
Companies collect that information, Wiemann said, and relentlessly call individuals asking them to sign up for their services. What's also frustrating for Wiemann is the office provides Medicare assistance to county residents for free. For the first time in about a decade, Wiemann said there's been a slight decrease in the number of people requesting assistance, and she attributes part of that to these kinds of ads.
Legislator Patrick Mahunik suggested designating $500 to about $2,000 toward advertising for the office of the aging to help spread the word that it provides this assistance. Legislator Ben Vitale said he agreed it would be good to get the word out, but he cautioned that the county did not have the advertising funds insurance companies have.
Legislator Joe Bennett suggested that in the future, the office mail a flier with the county tax statements so a large population of county residents would get the information.
Wiemann said she would pursue those things, but in the meantime, she hopes residents will be cautious about the information they give out and the meetings they attend.
In other news:
• The county's department of Social Services is hoping to get new software that could make paperwork and interviews in the Child Protective Services unit less invasive and more efficient. Director of Community Services Ray Bizzari said a program created by Northwoods Consulting Partners would put all the office's records onto a database accessible via iPad. A caseworker could visit a home at either end of the county with the ability to pull up any and all paperwork needed.
The software also allows conversations to be recorded, which Child Protective Services Supervisor Greg Daly said not only ensures accuracy during a visit, but can make the situation less invasive and more supportive. Typically staff types or writes down their interviews.
Bizzari said he had the software in his department's original budget proposal, but Legislature Chairman Keith Batman cut it with an indication that should he be given more information, it could be added back in. Bizzari said 75 percent of the software is reimbursable with the county on the hook for 25 percent, or about $150,000 over three years.
Bennett said he couldn't believe the Legislature wouldn't support the software. Legislator Terry Baxter said it sounded like an invaluable tool for the department and for county residents working with Child Protective Services.
The 2018 budget will be examined again by the body on Thursday, Nov. 16.