California Health Advocates submitted the letter below voicing our concerns and some solutions on the new Medicare Plan Finder tool that will launch on October 1. A few of the concerns include: issues of privacy; the fact that beneficiaries will have to establish a log-in and password to do a personalized health plan or prescription drug search, even if they’re not tech savvy; and that general searches will not save prescription drug entries, so repeated entries will be required as needed when not doing a personalized search. These new log-in and drug entry procedures will also make the work of the Health Insurance Counseling & Advocacy Program (HICAP), California’s State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), and other people and organizations who assist beneficiaries significantly more difficult, inconvenient and time-consuming.
Read the letter below for more information.
August 26, 2019
Ms. Seema Verma, Administrator
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
Department of Health & Human Services
200 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, D.C. 20201
Dear Administrator Verma,
I am writing to express our concerns regarding the new Medicare Plan Finder, which is set to launch publicly on October 1st. These concerns were brought to our attention following a session during the CMS Train-the-Trainer conference in San Francisco, and subsequently the CMS hosted webinar on August 16.
California Health Advocates (CHA), a non-profit organization founded in 1997, is the leading Medicare Advocacy and educational voice for more than 5.6 million Medicare beneficiaries in California. We also support our members, the California SHIPs, known as Health Insurance and Advocacy Programs (HICAPs) who are responsible for assisting this state’s Medicare beneficiaries with plan comparisons throughout the year, but particularly during the Annual Election Period (AEP), and the Medicare Advantage Election Period (MAEP).
Some of the concerns are listed below:
- The New Plan Finder forces beneficiaries to establish a log-in/password in order to do a personalized search or comparison, even if they are not technologically savvy.
- We have privacy concerns regarding the fact that anyone who assists in establishing mymedicare.gov accounts, e.g. insurance agents, SHIP counselors, etc., can see claims data.
- In these times where questionable and fraudulent enrollment practices by insurance agents occur, beneficiaries will continue to be victims of Medicare fraud.
- General searches will not save Rx entries, so repeated entries will be required as needed when not doing a personalized search.
- Extra time for HICAP/SHIP counselors will limit the number of appointments that may be available in the various counseling sites in California.
- HICAPs/SHIPs are not supposed to save login/password information, and there is no guarantee that clients will remember or save their login information, thus adding more time and effort on HICAP/SHIP counselors.
- The new tool deepens equity divisions between the tech savvy and the computer illiterate. It doesn’t consider the demographics of our aging population in that the 85+ is the fastest growing segment, and they suffer the highest rates of dementia and may lose the ability to use computers, the internet, etc.
- CMS assumes that the majority of beneficiaries are technologically adept at using this new system, while the reality is that the HICAP/SHIPs routinely assist clients during the Annual Election Period, just because they have the detailed knowledge of plans available in their area.
- 1-800 Medicare CSRs are unable to assist beneficiaries with complex needs, and even with basic information, clients often make questionable decisions based on information or misinformation given by 1-800 Medicare CSRs. HICAPs in California have often reported that those CSRs have given incorrect information to clients, which caused them to incur thousands of dollars in medical care because of that incorrect information. This, in turn, caused requests for Special Enrollment Periods to resolve beneficiaries’ enrollment issues. CSRs are also not trained on individual state’s guarantee issue protections for Medigaps.
- As a point of historical record, because of concerns expressed by advocates around the country, a hearing was convened, and on September 11, 2008 I testified before the US Senate Special Aging Committee regarding the quality and accuracy of information provided by Medicare’s customer service representatives.
We understand that a focus group provided input into the design of the new plan finder tool, however the concerns noted above demonstrate a lack of true understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the SHIPs and the counselors who faithfully serve California’s and the nation’s Medicare beneficiaries.
One way to resolve issues surrounding privacy and the ability to adequately and promptly serve Medicare beneficiaries is to provide special access to the Plan Finder tool that allows SHIP counselors to process plan comparison searches without going through the mymedicare.gov process. In addition, designing a “save” mechanism for prescription drug entries and changes.
California Health Advocates is requesting a delay in the implementation of the new Plan Finder, or to at least allow SHIPs and other advocates to NOT require beneficiaries establish logins and passwords on mymedicare.gov during the open enrollment periods, i.e. AEP and MA OEP.
I’ll be glad to discuss this matter further. I can be reached at 530-521-7502.
Consultant and Training Specialist
Cc: Mary Lazare, Principal Deputy Administrator, Administration for Community Living; Denise Crandall, SHIP Director, California Department of Aging