By Ryan Grim for the Huffington Post—
Medicare Advantage plans — publicly funded but privately administered Medicare plans — are regularly accused of tricking the elderly into giving up their Medicare coverage for an Advantage plan that doesn’t suit them.
In response, are they now tricking old folks into signing letters to local newspapers, hoping to create the impression of a grassroots movement in support of maintaining funding for Medicare Advantage?
That’s the charge being made by local newspapers that have gotten suspicious letters from old folks defending funding for Medicare Advantage. The group behind the letters says it’s a misunderstanding.
In March, the Huffington Post wrote about Medicare Advantage scams and asked readers to share stories of run-ins with MA companies, which have been known to dupe old folks into signing up for coverage that doesn’t include their own doctor or otherwise leaves them battling to get their medical bills paid.
The plans are under attack by the Obama administration, which thinks it can wring some $177 billion out of the budget by cutting back on subsidies for the companies.
The companies’ response is backfiring — big time. The health insurance lobby, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), hired Dewey Square Group, a powerful PR firm with close ties to Democrats, to gin up a “grassroots campaign” in defense of Medicare Advantage. The tactic of choice: letters from satisfied elderly patients.
Matthew Nadler, editor of the Pembroke Mariner & Reporter in Massachusetts, received one such letter and sensed a fraud. He called the number on the letter and the elderly man on the end told him he had no idea what he was talking about.
A few days later, a young man called asking if the letter had been published. Nadler gave him an earful and figured out through caller ID — the kid declined to say where he was calling from — that he was from Dewey Square.
The same thing happened to the Eagle-Tribune, which got three letters from elderly folks calling for Medicare Advantage to be protected. When contacted, they denied having anything to do with the letters. Later, a young man called, claiming to be one of the non-letter-writer’s grandsons. He, too, turned out to be from Dewey Square.
One of the letters to the Eagle-Tribune was said to have come from William Morin, nearing 89 years old. Reached by the Huffington Post at home, he changed his tune a bit, saying he got something in the mail about a month ago asking him to sign on to a letter.
“At 89, I don’t have much disagreement in me left,” he said. “It was something that came in the mail, and I think I agreed with it, and I sent it out.”