State senator proposes Medicare bill for stricter sales guidelines

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 | 9:26 p.m. CST; updated 9:59 p.m. CST, Tuesday, January 26, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — Insurance companies could face tougher state rules in selling Medicare under a measure presented to the Senate committee Tuesday.

Sen. Norma Champion, R-Springfield, is sponsoring the bill.

The bill has two main objectives, Champion told the Small Business, Insurance and Industry Committee. While many insurance companies already refund any prepaid premiums upon cancellation, the bill would mandate such action for Medicare supplement policies and any long-term insurance policies. Seniors often want to pay their premiums ahead of time, Champion said.

Catherine Edwards of Area Agency on Aging testified that the bill was a matter of equity and fairness to Missouri seniors.

Edwards noted that in today's economic climate, the elderly are under a lot of financial pressure.

"Every dollar must stretch as far as it can for Missouri seniors," she said.

The measure would enforce existing guidelines for those who sell Medicare.

The second, and potentially more contentious, issue involves adopting guidelines for selling Medicare, including those from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid  Services.

The bill deems a number of trade practices unfair, including cold lead advertising — also known as cold calling — and door-to-door soliciting. Insurance sellers also would not be allowed to use an appointment made for Medicare sales to discuss other kinds of insurance, such as life insurance or health insurance.

The state Department of Insurance currently has guidelines pertaining to unfair sales practices, said Angela Nelson, of Consumer Affairs Division of the department. Even so, she said, abuse continues, and the department wants the state to enforce these guidelines.

Champion testified to receiving a high volume of mailers, some even that did not make it clear they were advertisements.

These practices, together with the centers' marketing guidelines, would be enforced through suspensions or fines.

Shannon Cooper, a lobbyist for America's Health Insurance Plans, testified against the bill. He cautioned the committee that adopting the guidelines may cause tension as it would become a federal versus state issue . Past regulations have contained inconsistencies from year to year, Cooper said.

Some members of the committee echoed Cooper's sentiments. Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, questioned codifying federal guidelines and said he wanted more information on the specifics of the guidelines.


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