Terry Turner, writer and researcher for RetireGuide
  • Written by
    Terry Turner

    Terry Turner

    Senior Financial Writer and Financial Wellness Facilitator

    Terry Turner has more than 35 years of journalism experience, including covering benefits, spending and congressional action on federal programs such as Social Security and Medicare. He is a Certified Financial Wellness Facilitator through the National Wellness Institute and the Foundation for Financial Wellness and a member of the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education (AFCPE®).

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  • Edited By
    Savannah Pittle
    Savannah Pittle, senior financial editor for RetireGuide

    Savannah Pittle

    Senior Financial Editor

    Savannah Pittle is a professional writer and content editor with over 16 years of professional experience across multiple industries. She has ghostwritten for entrepreneurs and industry leaders and been published in mediums such as The Huffington Post, Southern Living and Interior Appeal Magazine.

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  • Reviewed By
    Aflak Chowdhury
    Aflak Chowdhury

    Aflak Chowdhury

    Medicare Expert

    Aflak Chowdhury is a Medicare expert and independent insurance broker specializing in group health insurance. He has worked for major providers including Humana and Principal Financial Group and today works mainly in the small group market.

    Read More
  • Published: May 4, 2022
  • Updated: October 20, 2023
  • 6 min read time
  • This page features 7 Cited Research Articles
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A licensed insurance professional reviewed this page for accuracy and compliance with the CMS Medicare Communications and Marketing Guidelines (MCMGs) and Medicare Advantage (MA/MAPD) and/or Medicare Prescription Drug Plans (PDP) carriers’ guidelines.

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How to Cite RetireGuide.com's Article

APA Turner, T. (2023, October 20). Medicare Broker vs. Agent. RetireGuide.com. Retrieved May 17, 2024, from https://www.retireguide.com/medicare/compare/medicare-broker-vs-agent/

MLA Turner, Terry. "Medicare Broker vs. Agent." RetireGuide.com, 20 Oct 2023, https://www.retireguide.com/medicare/compare/medicare-broker-vs-agent/.

Chicago Turner, Terry. "Medicare Broker vs. Agent." RetireGuide.com. Last modified October 20, 2023. https://www.retireguide.com/medicare/compare/medicare-broker-vs-agent/.

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RetireGuide’s mission is to provide seniors with resources that will help them reach important financial decisions that affect their retirement. Our goal is to arm our readers with knowledge that will lead to a healthy and financially sound retirement.

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What Is the Difference Between a Medicare Agent and a Medicare Broker?

The biggest difference between a Medicare Agent and a Medicare broker is that an agent represents one or more insurance companies, while a broker works for the person looking for the best Medicare plan for their situation.

Agents and brokers both compare different Medicare plans and combinations of plans to come up with the best options based on price and need.

Agents and brokers do not sell Original Medicare — Medicare Part A or Part B. They sell private Medicare plans. These include Medicare Advantage, Medigap and Medicare Part D drug plans — all sold through private insurers.

Agents work on a commission based on the Medicare policies they sell. They also handle the process of searching for and applying for Medicare plans.

Brokers work as an intermediary between you and insurance companies. A broker reviews and researches several different Medicare plan options then recommends the best plan based on your needs and the plan’s price.

Brokers cannot sign you up for a particular plan, though. Once you make your choice, the broker turns you over to the insurance company or one of its agents to complete the deal.

Difference Between Medicare Agents and Brokers

Medicare brokers frequently sell other types of insurance — home, life, auto, long-term care — which may be of interest to you.

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Independent Agents vs. Captive Agents

When comparing Medicare agents and brokers, it’s important to understand the two different types of agents as well — independent agents and captive agents.

Captive agents represent a single insurance company. They focus specifically on the plans their company offers.

Independent agents represent several competing insurance companies. They may work in a way similar to brokers — in that they can compare Medicare plans from different companies — but they still represent the companies whose plans they offer.

How Are Agents and Brokers Paid?

Agents and brokers all receive commissions, but some agents also receive a salary from an insurance company.

How Agents and Brokers Are Paid
Captive Agents
Captive agents receive a salary by the insurance company they represent plus a lower commission rate than independent agents.
Independent Agents
Independent agents’ income is primarily from commissions — which may be up to 50% higher than those paid to captive agents.
Once a broker hands off a client to an insurance company, the company pays the broker a commission. A commission varies based on each state’s insurance regulations, but it may be as high as 8% of the cost of the premiums.

You don’t pay for the services of a Medicare broker or agent.

Enrolling in a Medicare Advantage, Medigap or Medicare Part D prescription drug plan does not increase your premium or other costs for coverage. Since agents and brokers receive commissions from the insurers, their service is effectively free of charge to you.

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What to Consider When Choosing

You do not need an agent or broker to find the best Medicare coverage for you. You can do the research on your own. But a Medicare agent or broker can help guide you through the often confusing process of finding the best available Medicare plan — or combination of plans — for your needs.

Benefits of a Medicare Agent or Broker
Review Medicare plans
Medicare agents and brokers can compare your current coverage to other available options to determine if you can save money without sacrificing coverage. Their expertise can cut through confusion about different options to find the best combination of Medicare plans to meet your needs.
Help with medical underwriting
If you buy a Medigap plan outside of the open enrollment period, you may have to go through medical underwriting — which can include an examination to determine your state of health and what your premiums may cost you. Medicare agents and brokers can review the underwriting terms of different policies to find the best option for you.
Preferred doctors
Medicare Advantage plans have networks of preferred doctors, hospitals and other health care providers. If you have preferences, a Medicare broker or agent can zero in on plans that allow you to keep your doctor(s).
Preferred prescription drugs
Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D prescription drug plans have their own networks of pharmacies and formularies that determine which drugs they cover and what your copayments will be. A Medicare broker or agent can take your preferences for medications and pharmacies into consideration to find a plan that best meets your needs.
Save you time and money
Relying on the expertise of an experienced Medicare agent or broker can speed up the process of finding the best coverage for you in the least amount of time.

Pros and Cons of Using a Medicare Agent or Broker

There are some differences between how a captive agent, independent agent and broker function. The chief differences may be something you should consider when making a decision on which professional to choose.

Captive Agent, Independent Agent and Broker
Thorough understanding of insurance products offered by the insurance company they representUnderstands a wide range of Medicare insurance products from several different companiesUnderstands a wide range of products but does not represent any insurance company — only the customer
Unable to offer or compare Medicare insurance plans from competing insurance companiesCan compare a wide variety of plans from multiple insurers for options for each customerCan compare a wide variety of plans with a focus on the particular needs of the customer
Detailed understanding of policy updates and changes quickly after they happenMay not be as up to date on policy changes because they work with so many companiesUnable to provide customer service on your plan after handing you off to the insurer
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How to Find an Agent or a Broker

You can check with Medicare to find agents and brokers and with your state insurance department to verify the license status of someone who claims to be an insurance agent or broker.

Check a License
All Medicare agents and brokers must be licensed to operate in your state. You can use the NAIC locator tool to get in touch with your state insurance department to verify if someone claiming to be an insurance agent or broker is licensed.
Source: National Association of Insurance Commissioners

When selecting a Medicare agent or broker, make sure they look at whether or not your current coverage — based on both coverage terms and price — is the best option for you.

The average Medicare beneficiary has 39 Medicare Advantage plans to choose from in 2022, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That number may be higher in urban areas and lower in rural areas. There are also wide selections of Medigap and Medicare Part D drug plans available. Prices and coverage can vary widely, and not all plans are available everywhere.

You should ask if the broker or agent will review all plans available where you live — or if they will limit their review to a small selection of plans.


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Last Modified: October 20, 2023

7 Cited Research Articles

  1. U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. (2021, December 1). Agent Broker Compensation. Retrieved from https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Health-Plans/ManagedCareMarketing/AgentBroker
  2. Freed, M., Damico, A., & Neuman, T. (2021, November 2). Medicare Advantage 2022 Spotlight: First Look. Retrieved from https://www.kff.org/medicare/issue-brief/medicare-advantage-2022-spotlight-first-look/
  3. O’Brien, S. (2018, November 13). What your Medicare agent should do for you. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2018/11/13/what-your-medicare-agent-should-do-for-you.html
  4. HealthCare.gov. (n.d.). Agent and Broker (Health Insurance). Retrieved from https://www.healthcare.gov/glossary/agent/
  5. National Association of Insurance Commissioners. (n.d.). Insurance Departments. Retrieved from https://content.naic.org/state-insurance-departments
  6. U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. (n.d.). Meeting with Agents One-on-One. Retrieved from https://www.medicare.gov/Pubs/pdf/MeetngAgntsOneonOne_fctsht_ENGLISH_link.pdf
  7. U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. (n.d.). Rules for Medicare plans. Retrieved from https://www.medicare.gov/sign-up-change-plans/different-types-of-medicare-health-plans/rules-medicare-plans