Medicare Private Drug Plans Fail to Offer Accurate Information to Consumers, New Report Finds

Medicare Private Drug Plans Fail to Offer Accurate Information to Consumers, New Report Finds

Consumer Groups call for dramatic reform before 2007 Part D enrollment opens on November 15

OCTOBER 16, 2006, SACRAMENTO, CAWith the next enrollment period for the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit looming, California Health Advocates and the Medicare Rights Center are demanding that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) require Medicare private drug plans to provide timely and accurate information to people with Medicare who turn to the plans’ call centers for assistance.

According to a new report issued today by the two consumer organizations, call center representatives for companies offering Part D coverage remain unable to answer basic consumer questions regarding how the benefit works. The report found that the call centers frequently could not provide the information people with Medicare needed to make appropriate enrollment decisions.

In “Getting the Runaround: Problems with Obtaining Accurate Information from Part D Plans,” the two advocacy groups state that plan call centers are expected to serve as a crucial link to information about Part D coverage, but “independent surveys and anecdotal reports from counselors show serious lapses in the ability of Part D plans to provide accurate and timely information and to successfully guide people with Medicare seeking to access the benefit.”

“Good advice is the only antidote to the convoluted prescription drug benefit that older and disabled Americans are forced to navigate,” said Robert M. Hayes, President of the Medicare Rights Center. “Too often a call to one of the private drug plans does more to mislead, than to help.”

According to the report, CMS has failed to set adequate standards for the accuracy of information given by call centers. In preparation for the next enrollment period, the report recommends that CMS provide detailed requirements for the information customer service representatives (CSRs) must be able to provide, and take action to ensure those requirements are being met.

“The level of frustration expressed by people contacting our office is acute,” remarked Clare Smith, President/CEO of California Health Advocates, “The plans must be required to put resources into the provision of responsive and reliable service to those seeking access to prescription drug benefits.”

The report recommends that CMS ensure that the training and scripts provided to call center operators enables them to provide information about the following:

  • Enrollment process
  • How the specific plan works, including explanations of the coverage gap and important information for people eligible for the low-income subsidy
  • Plan formulary, including which drugs are covered and specifics on any coverage restrictions and limitations.

The report also recommends strengthening Medicare private drug plans’ capacity to communicate with non- and limited-English speakers and designating staff as experts in specific subject matter, such as enrollment, premium/cost-sharing, and coverage appeals.

The full report, including detailed recommendations, can be found at Getting the Runaround.

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California Health Advocates is a nonprofit organization dedicated to timely and responsive education and advocacy efforts on behalf of California Medicare beneficiaries and the pre-retirement population. For more information about CHA, call (916) 231-5110 or visit www.cahealthadvocates.org

Medicare Rights Center (MRC) is the largest independent source of health care information and assistance in the United States for people with Medicare. Founded in 1989, MRC helps older adults and people with disabilities get good, affordable health care.

Karen Fletcher
Our blogger Karen J. Fletcher is CHA's publications consultant. She provides technical expertise, writing and research on Medicare, health disparities and other health care issues. With a Masters in Public Health from UC Berkeley, she serves in health advocacy as a trainer and consultant. See her current articles.

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