Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Staff
In its most recent Medicare enrollment blog, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services touted a 14% increase in traffic on its overhauled Medicare Plan Finder website.
While saying improvements are continuing to the site, the Nov. 27 posting took a shot at earlier media coverage that the federal agency “has been distressed to see media coverage talking about ‘glitches’ or ‘malfunctions’ in the plan finder.
“Let’s be clear: the new Plan Finder has experienced no outages since it was launched.”
Fifteen U.S. senators, led by Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, say that’s not nearly good enough.
Since the plan finder’s rollout in late August, special state programs and others who counsel people on Medicare coverage “have continuously reported problems,” the senators wrote in a letter Thursday to CMS Administrator Seema Verma.
They said those problems include pricing and coverage information that does not match information on insurance company websites and “incorrect prescription drug pricing information that would amount to thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs for people with Medicare.”
Additionally, the letter said, “People with Medicare may not realize they received erroneous information from the MPF [Medicare Plan Finder] until they visit their pharmacy well into 2020.”
The senators called on Ms. Verma to authorize a special enrollment period that would allow seniors and other beneficiaries to change plans at any point during the 2020 calendar year “if they find they were misled by information” in the plan finder.
Mr. Casey is the ranking minority member of the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging, and his co-authors comprised 13 of his Democratic Senate colleagues, including Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota plus independent Sen. Angus King Jr. of Maine.
In response, a CMS spokesperson Friday released a statement that said, “The agency will provide more information soon to beneficiaries and beneficiary advocates on the SEP [Special Enrollment Period] for 2020,” indicating that a still-unannounced special enrollment plan is in the works.
“CMS has always had the ability to grant a SEP to beneficiaries under exceptional circumstances at any point during the year,” the statement reads.
“This SEP for exceptional circumstances isn’t new, but this year we’re doubling down on ensuring that choosing their Medicare coverage is a simple and painless experience for beneficiaries.”
One local Medicare beneficiary, Export resident Les Anticich, had raised concerns with the Post-Gazette about the plan finder website in the days leading up to the start of the open enrollment period that ended Saturday.
Mr. Anticich researches Medicare plans for himself and his wife, Janet, and his parents who are both in their 90s.
Unlike the previous version, he said the redesigned plan finder would not allow him to save a list of drugs and retrieve it while using the website anonymously, so he had to re-enter the drug list each time.
Also, he said a listing of available Medicare Advantage plans still calls up plans with drug coverage and those without, even though seniors would likely have already decided if they needed that coverage and it’s not as easy to determine if a particular pharmacy is on a particular plan’s “preferred” list.
“In my areas of interest,” Mr. Anticich concluded, “there has been negligible improvement.”