Let’s face it, enrolling in Medicare is a scary transition. Most people have had an HR department most of their working career that helped them with questions about their coverage. Heck, most people at least had a nosy coworker offer their unwanted opinion about what to choose. Now you are out there thinking, “I wouldn’t mind that nosy coworker right now.”
From my 12-year experience as a broker (licensed in Missouri, Florida, Michigan, and Illinois) who’s had an open ear for thousands of customers, people feel left out in the cold on how to approach Medicare. Where to start? Who to call? Where do the ABCs fit into all of this? And the question they’re asking most is, “How do I know the right person to talk to?” Well, you need a broker. A broker is an advocate who is able to sell most if not all of the policies available in your area. And a good broker will help you start to finish. Here are the things you need to know when you hire one.
1. Determine If They Are A Broker Or An Agent
Brokers have the availability to sell lots of different types of plans from a menu of carriers and are typically unbiased. Agents can be captive — working directly with one carrier and bound by an agreement to only sell their products in exchange for marketing money. Speaking with an agent who can only offer limited plans can significantly reduce your access to a plan that is right for you.
Pro Tip: The easiest question to ask is, “Do you offer more than one provider option?”
2. Are They Local?
I think this is one of the more important qualities to have in a broker. Even though Medicare is a national program, plans are specific — all the way down to the county level. Yes, I said county, not country. This is why it is very important to have a local representative. They will know the details for plans in your area down to who offers service animal stipends (yes, that’s real). For example, there are about 40 Advantage plans in my area — St. Louis — alone. It would be impossible for a broker to know all the specifics of policies across states. So make sure your broker is near you or at least in your state.
3. Will They Help With Assistance Programs?
Almost all states have some sort of assistance programs for people with qualifying disabilities and those who need financial help getting Medicare coverage. A lot of people are on a fixed income at retirement and need assistance paying for medications and hospital copays. A broker’s willingness to assist you in navigating these programs is a good indicator of an altruistic person. They do not get paid to help with this, but it helps the clients greatly.
4. How Long Have They Been In Business?
There are two sides of this spectrum: people who have not been in the business long enough and people that have been doing it for too long. Usually three years is a good amount of time for a broker to have gotten the ins and outs of Medicare, especially if they have a mentor or manager to assist with issues that may arise. On the other side of the hill, we have the veterans. And if you are a vet or you know a vet, you also know they are not really writing new war strategies. They are not bad by any means as they have dealt with it all. After 12 years in the business myself, I still call my vets for guidance a lot. However, if I ask them about the Medicaid expansion, they would respond with, “Expansion what?” I don’t expect them to know, but I want my broker to know.
5. How Many Clients Do They Have?
Some brokers are looking to make as much money as possible. This can affect the amount of customer service they are able to provide. If a broker has 500+ clients, it can be very hard for them to provide good customer service. That said, all those clients can be a sign that they’re serving their clients with great customer service.
Pro Tip: If the Medicare broker you’re considering does have a lot of clients, ask them if they have someone you can reach when they are unavailable. A broker with 500+ clients will typically have an assistant or liaison to help customers with issues and answer questions.
6. Do They Have A Place Of Business?
I have pulled back on this requirement post-pandemic as most brokers I know are working from the comfort of their own home offices. That said, you may prefer to work with a broker you can meet with in person, not via Zoom. I’ll admit, I go to the office to save my clients from my 5-year-old, who has literally painted herself and the dog blue in the background of a video call! And I still feel it is important for clients to have direct access to their broker. That said, if your broker does not have a dedicated office, know that many will meet you at the local coffee shop or even in your home when you want to discuss your options.
7. Are They Offering You Options, Or Is It A Hard Sell?
This is probably more of a warning than anything. If you feel pressured in the direction of a policy, it probably should be a red flag to jump ship. Unfortunately, there are some salespeople out there who are not looking out for your best interests, and there is a lot of competition in the insurance world. Different providers offer exceptional bonuses and perks for selling certain products. Some agents may steer clients toward a policy that could help them earn a trip to the beach but will leave the client feeling less than relaxed.
If you get satisfactory responses to the questions above, you shouldn’t have much to worry about. Stick to your instincts and go with a Medicare broker who makes you feel comfortable.
These are my tried-and-true guidelines to help you choose a good broker. If the Medicare broker you’re considering is checking off your broker wishlist, they are probably great.
Pro Tips: Note that all brokers are required to get basic certifications annually. Those are just the basics though. Brokers who want to dive deeper have to keep up with research. Most people spend 7 years with the same Medicare broker, so the best thing to do is have an honest conversation with anyone you’re considering and get to know them as you would a physician or other professional advisor. Happy hunting!
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