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How much insurance do I need?

They’re becoming more of a nuisance rather than a routine.

At least five-to-six times a day, my cell phone will ring with a sales solicitation call. The “pitch” is an offer for me to purchase Medicare Supplement Insurance.

Yep….that stage of my life is drawing near. In less than three months, yours truly will reach the magical retirement age of 65. To me, those two digits arranged back-to-back are merely a number as I have no plans to retire.

But yet there are companies from all across the United States who think I am retiring. Their persistent phone calls are proof. The callers appear to know more about me than I know about myself….and that’s scary.

“Hello, Mr. Bryant, this is “Susie” with “ABC” Insurance. Our records indicate that you are turning age 65 this year and”………that’s the point of the call where I typically hang-up (if I actually answered it in the first place; I cut most all of them off after seeing the number they’re coming from).

I reached the conclusion that these were scam calls. However, while that may be true in the “spoofing” calls I receive on a regular basis (one where a local number appears in the caller ID, but it’s a scammer using software to mask their real identities), those contacting me about purchasing a Medicare Supplement Insurance plan are legit, according to the North Carolina Department of Insurance.

I reached out, via email, to that state agency a few weeks ago regarding all these sales calls I was receiving.

“Companies selling Medicare Supplement plans are allowed to make cold calls to consumers. This differs from companies selling Medicare Advantage plans, which require receipt of a scope of interest form before solicitations can be initiated,” wrote Barry L. Smith, Assistant Director of Public Affairs for the NC Department of Insurance, in his email reply.

“In most cases, Medicare supplement companies receive data on consumers turning 65 and begin marketing their services to those adults through phone calls and the mail. Companies have phone centers that call potential customers. These phone centers can be out of state. There are approximately 50 companies who sell Medicare Supplement plans in North Carolina,” Smith added.

Mr. Smith is right about these phone centers being out of state. I checked the call log on my cell phone. Since Jan. 1 of this year I have received calls from Delaware, Wisconsin, California, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Texas, Illinois, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Ohio, South Carolina, Indiana, New York, Colorado, Kansas, Florida, Oklahoma, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, North Dakota, Iowa, Virginia, Washington, and Alaska (the latter, I received three straight calls – from different numbers – over a 90-minute stretch on March 19).

Companies in Delaware (17 calls) and New York (11) appear the most persistent.

I’ve even received calls from North Carolina numbers (based on the area codes) that I do not recognize.

While Mr. Smith insisted that these calls were most all legit, he did offer a warning.

“It’s important to note that consumers could be getting phone calls from scammers seeking information they could use for medical identity theft. It’s important for senior citizens to recognize such scam artists. Hang up and call our Criminal Investigations Division at 919-807-6840 if they ask for your Social Security number, your new Medicare card number, or bank information,” he wrote in his email.

Mr. Smith explained Medicare Supplement plans supplement Medicare.

“In other words, depending on the plan chosen, these plans pay the co-payments and deductibles Medicare does not pay.  The coverage can leave consumers paying nothing or very little out of pocket for health care.  There, of course, is a premium payment for these plans,” he noted.

He kindly offered more information by encouraging me to visit his agency’s Seniors Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) website (www.ncdoi.com/shiip). There I can find a listing of all the licensed companies in North Carolina. It also lists the average cost of plans. Plans can vary from county to county and by zip codes.

“Consumers would certainly have to have Medicare before they could purchase a Medicare Supplement plan,” Smith wrote.  “However, solicitations can start long before someone’s 65th birthday with companies trying to pre-sale their plans. The effective date would not be until the consumer is on Medicare. We encourage Medicare-eligible adults, and those about to become eligible for Medicare, to call our toll-free line at 855-408-1212 for any questions.”

Just thought I would share this info with all my “senior” readers. Maybe after we all hit that magical 65, the phone solicitations will stop.

Then again, maybe they will not. While writing this column I received a call to sign-up for a Medical Alert (I’ve fallen and can’t get up) device.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207. 

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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