6 months ago ·
by alan ·
Walmart made a lot of waves in the insurance world last week by announcing that its in-house brokerage unit, known as Walmart Insurance Services, would begin selling Medicare Advantage and Part D plans for the 2020 Annual Enrollment Period this fall. This understandably created concern among independent insurance agents that we would now be directly competing with Walmart for our clients, a position that clearly not many people whose name doesn’t begin with “Amazon” are anxious to be in. Indeed, there are very few who can compete effectively with Walmart for most products.
But there are a couple of factors that make Walmart insurance very different from other types of products they sell. Generally, Walmart only has one bullet in its marketing gun – low prices. If Walmart were to become an insurance carrier like Aetna, Humana, or Cigna, and begin underwriting their own Walmart branded policies and paying claims, it’s possible they might be able to offer lower prices on their policies because they would control the underwriting and premiums. But that isn’t what they are doing. Walmart is a broker (i.e., agent), and they are selling the exact same Humana, United, and Wellcare policies that every broker in the country has access to. That means you pay the exact same amount for your policy whether you buy it through Walmart or an independent agent, and thereby Walmart loses their one weapon – the ability to control price.
The other thing that makes insurance different is the basic economic difference between products and services. Walmart products are commodities – things that you can buy virtually anywhere. It doesn’t matter whether you buy your peanut butter at Walmart, Kroger, Dollar General, or Sprint Mart. It’s still the exact same peanut butter, and the only difference is how much you pay at the different outlets. Commodities is where Walmart steamrolls everyone. But insurance is not a product; it’s a personalized service. A good agent has to take the time to develop a relationship with you in order to thoroughly understand your needs and recommend the product that is right for you, even if it means a lower commission for the agent. Most insurance products also have varying underwriting requirements, and the simple fact is that a lot of applications that get submitted through Walmart will be denied because the agent either didn’t understand the client’s needs or have the experience to know which companies have the most favorable underwriting. You can’t just choose a policy based on a price tag, and insurance is a relationship business that can’t be run through the express checkout lane.
Products are easy, and Walmart is good at them. Services are hard and require time, experience, and relationships in order to be provided the way they are supposed to be, and Walmart is not good at that. When was the last time you got quality, personalized service at Walmart? Right, that’s what I thought. So while there will unquestionably be some people who find Walmart insurance compelling, they are almost certainly the same people who would never have gone to a quality independent broker anyway. Our business will always be built on personal relationships, trust, and expertise.
So, self-checkout insurance? I don’t think so.
7 months ago ·
by alan ·
It’s getting close to that time again. The Medicare annual enrollment period is almost here, and even though it’s not quite time yet, you should definitely be giving some thought to your needs. There are exciting new options and lots of changes coming for next year, and with so many options available it can seem a little overwhelming at times. But we are here to help, and our hometown Medicare specialists can help you make the right choice to be sure you have the coverage you need at the best price.
Here’s what you need to do now to be ready:
During the month of September, you should be on the lookout for any letters or notices regarding changes to your existing coverage, as many insurers will make changes to premiums and benefits during this time. New healthcare plans and providers may also join or leave your network year over year. Additionally, Congress or other government agencies may periodically make changes to Medicare that might affect your benefits, so it’s important to stay abreast of those.
These notices are time sensitive, because if you need to make changes to certain coverage, that must be done during the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) beginning on October 15 and ending on December 7. If you miss this window of opportunity, you will probably have to wait until next year to make changes to your coverage.
It’s also possible that your health needs may have changed during the past year, due to either a new medical condition that requires additional coverage, or possibly you might need to modify your coverage to reflect an improvement in your health. If that’s the case, the coverage that worked for you last year might not be the best choice this year, even if your premiums and benefits don’t change.
The best way to stay on top of these changes and be sure you aren’t inadvertently left with new coverage gaps is to talk to a Medicare professional every year. That’s where we come in. There’s absolutely no cost to call or come in for a free annual review of your health coverage. Our friendly hometown Medicare specialists will be glad to make sure you understand all your options and have the coverage you need and the lowest possible cost. But remember – we will be swamped beginning in October, so don’t wait. Call for your completely FREE coverage review today. 662-269-2519 or email us.
2 years ago ·
by alan ·
Did you know that your pharmacist can often lower your out of pocket expense for your medications if you ask? Just ask the cash price.
You read that right. All you have to do is ask, especially if your prescription is for a generic. It’s fairly common knowledge that there are many different prices for medical services and prescriptions, depending on your particular payment method. We all know that healthcare providers frequently charge higher prices to patients with insurance than cash-paying clients. Why this is legal remains a mystery to us, but that’s another topic for another day…
What you may not know is that insurance carriers often have “gag orders” in their contracts with pharmacists that prevent them from disclosing to their customers that a lower price exists on a medication. In many instances, the cash price for your medication may actually be less than your co-payment amount, and your insurance company may be pocketing the difference. Cash prices for generic drugs began dipping below co-pays many years ago when big-box retailers like Walmart, Walgreens, and Rite-Aid started offering $4 prescriptions for dozens of generic drugs. Although these programs are not as common as they were a few years ago, they have successfully driven down cash prices for generics to often “below co-pay” levels. The result is that your pharmacist can’t tell you there is a lower price, but you can ask and they have to tell you.
While no one really denies that these clauses exist, insurance carriers and drug manufacturers naturally deny that they are common, although a 2016 survey of 600 pharmacists found that 84% reported that patients had been overcharged 10 or more times in the previous month, and 35% reported that it had happened 50 or more times. A recent research letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reviewed 9.5 million Medicare Part D prescription claims and found that 25% of drugs purchased had a lower cash price than the co-payment that was actually paid by the customer. The overpayments were usually small, although some were as high as $30.
So the next time you visit your pharmacist, be sure and ask the cash price before you file it on your insurance. You might end up saving some money in the process.
Questions or comments? Post a comment below and let us know what you think! Also, don’t forget to contact us and get a FREE review of your drug plan to see if you are saving the most money possible.