The $11 Million Dollar Medicare Tool That Gives US Seniors the Wrong Insurance Information
The Trump administration redesigned the online Medicare Cost Finder for seniors to compare complex health insurance options. But consumer advocates have identified instances when the tool has malfunctioned and given inaccurate plan and price data.
The federal government recently redesigned a digital tool that helps seniors navigate complicated Medicare choices, but consumer advocates say it’s malfunctioning with alarming frequency, offering inaccurate cost estimates and creating chaos in some states during the open enrollment period.
Diane Omdahl, a Medicare consultant in Wisconsin, said she used the tool Friday to research three prescription drug plans for a client. The comparison page, which summarizes total costs, showed all but one of her client’s medications would be covered. When Omdahl clicked on “plan details” to find out which medicine was left out, the plan finder then said all of them were covered.
So she started checking the plans’ websites, and it turns out there are two versions of the same high blood pressure medication. One is covered. The other is not. The difference in price: $2,700 a month.
In Nebraska, miscalculations offered through the new Medicare Plan Finder were so worrisome that the state in late October temporarily shut down a network of about 350 volunteer Medicare advisers for a day because without the tool, narrowing the numerous choices — more than 4,000 Medicare plans are available nationwide — down to three top selections would be nearly impossible.
Days later, EnvisionRxPlus, a prescription drug plan, sent an email to independent insurance brokers nationwide recommending they not use the Medicare Plan Finder because of incorrect estimates on drug prices and patient deductibles. (It’s a warning they had yet to retract some two weeks later.)
Minnesota’s Association of Area Agencies on Aging said in a news release on Nov. 14 that the Medicare Plan Finder “continues to produce flawed results,” including inaccurate premium estimates, incorrect prescription drug costs and inaccurate costs with extra help subsidies.
More than 60 million people use Medicare, which covers those over 65 and the disabled. Users have to pick their plans annually. The current open enrollment period ends Dec. 7. Medicare advisers — as well as advocates for seniors — worry that the full weight of the tool’s inaccuracies will not be felt until the 2020 coverage year begins and seniors head to pharmacies to fill prescriptions or show up for medical appointments. For many Medicare participants, selections made during open enrollment are irreversible.
“Millions of people are going to be absolutely affected,” said Ann Kayrish, senior program manager for Medicare at the National Council on Aging. “And you hate to think about millions of people having the wrong plan. That’s kind of crazy.”
“It’s not like there’s one consistent problem that you can fix and then be addressed,” said David Lipschutz, associate director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy. “It’s really like a game of whack-a-mole.” Continue Reading…