Service is a Medicare Matchmaker for All

By Laura Green

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Seniors navigating the countless choices of Medicare health plans have a new resource.

Extend Health, a health care exchange once used exclusively by retirees from some of the nation’s largest companies, is offering its services to all seniors.

Through its website and 500-member call center, the company helps assess a senior’s needs, such as wanting to pay less upfront and more out-of-pocket or needing a plan that covers specific prescription drugs, and culls down the list of plans.

Choosing a Medicare plan has always been a daunting task. But seniors will face even more options and significant changes to the program as health care reform is phased in beginning this year.

“It couldn’t’ be a more important point for everybody in the Medicare program to have this available for them,” said Chief Executive Officer Bryce Williams.

Nancy Bonomo of Boca Raton used the company’s services last year when Allstate, her former employer, informed retirees that the company would no longer provider supplemental insurance. Bonomo wasn’t comfortable using the Internet to compare plans and she was overwhelmed by the idea of choosing on her own.

“It’s just mind-boggling when you go and try to choose the one that would fit your needs,” she said.

Bonomo called Extend Health, told the operator the names of doctors she wanted to continue to see and the prescription drugs she needed covered. When she called back, the service recommended two or three plans.

Extend Health receives a commission from the insurance provider when it enrolls a client, but that fee is embedded into the plan cost, meaning that seniors pay no more for the coverage whether they select it through Extend Health or enroll in the plan on their own. Commission details are closely held so call center workers cannot steer seniors to the plans that pay the highest commissions.

Extend Health began this program about four years ago when Chrysler Motor Corp. was looking for a way to rein in exploding health care costs for its 19,000 retirees. It hired Extend Health to find plans. Soon General Motors and Ford began using the service.

Now the exchange serves more than 100 companies, including 30 on the Fortune 500 list, Williams said.

“As we’ve gone along, we’ve been asked quite often over the last couple of years, can I just send people I know, friends of friends, to your exchange,” Bryce said.

Seniors can access the company’s services at (866) 322-2824 or Plan details for the Nov. 15 enrollment may not yet be available.