Setting the Record Straight: GAO's Inaccurate, Incomplete, And Outdated Medicare Report
"Well, first of all, let me point out that this report that you are referring to was a snapshot of one aspect of all efforts being used to communicate and sign seniors up for the new Medicare prescription drug benefit. It was a snapshot that was taken three months ago, in the January and early February time frame. And the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has continued to take steps to make improvements to their communications tool. ... But the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also has an ongoing monitoring program which takes a random sample of the calls coming in to make sure that they are being answered accurately. And they have found that 93 percent of the time, those calls from people wanting to sign up are being answered accurately."
-White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan
May 3, 2006
GAO's Findings Are Inaccurate, Incomplete, And Outdated
"Study Finds Medicare Operators Often Give Bad Information." (Ceci Connolly, "Study Finds Medicare Operators Often Give Bad Information," The Washington Post, 5/4/06)
But GAO Bases Its Evaluation Of 1-800-MEDICARE On Misleading Criteria - GAO Did Not Find That Operators Gave Out Wrong Information. For its report, GAO had test callers who were not actual beneficiaries call Medicare customer service through the 1-800-MEDICARE help line. Per standard practice, the customer service representatives requested the callers' beneficiary identification numbers - which the test callers did not possess because they were not actual beneficiaries. In most calls by actual beneficiaries, they are able to provide their identification numbers. GAO's test was fundamentally flawed, and there is no evidence that operators gave out wrong information in these instances.
GAO Bases Its Report On A Snapshot In Time Three Months Ago (January And Early February 2006). Medicare is continually improving all its communications tools and the capabilities of 1-800-MEDICARE operators have been strengthened. Medicare prepared for the open enrollment period by developing a comprehensive training curriculum on the prescription drug benefit and the Plan Finder for 1-800-MEDICARE operators. Medicare has continued to update the scripts and reference materials available for operators to use. Call wait times now average two to three minutes.
- Since January, Calls To 1-800-MEDICARE Have Been Answered Accurately 93 Percent Of The Time, According To Medicare's Ongoing Monitoring Program. The monitoring program evaluates a random sample of hundreds of actual calls received each month.
- Overall Satisfaction From 1-800-MEDICARE Callers Averaged 84 To 85 Percent In February And March. The high satisfaction rates reflect the help line's high accuracy rate.
GAO Bases Its Evaluation On Whether Beneficiaries Could Calculate Out-Of-Pocket Costs Using Medicare's Plan Finder, But This Is Unnecessary For Actual Beneficiaries. The Plan Finder was designed to make calculations so that beneficiaries could make confident plan choices. Most beneficiaries are using the web tool and choosing plans with benefits other than the standard benefit design.
GAO Ignores Major Aspects Of Medicare's Communications Activities. Medicare has expanded its community-based education and outreach efforts through an extensive network of grassroots partners across the country. These efforts are particularly important for beneficiaries who do not use the handbook or the web. Medicare has built an unprecedented effort along with thousands of national and local partner organizations including SHIPs, Area Agencies on Aging, NCOA, disability organizations, church groups, the NAACP, pharmacists and physicians.
Medicare's Website Is Working
Medicare Has Responded To More Than 19,000 Emails Received Through The FAQ Section Of Medicare's Website, With 93 Percent Of Them Being Resolved Satisfactorily In The First Response. The frequently asked questions section of www.medicare.gov has been accessed more than 1 million times since January 1, 2006.
The High Level Of Online Enrollment And Use By Partners Indicates That Many People Have Found Medicare's Web Resource Useful And Effective. A successful key tool for beneficiaries to find the information they need and to enroll in a plan is the Medicare Personal Plan Finder. The drug plan finder has received 164.6 million page views between November 15, 2005 and April 26, 2006. Thousands of beneficiaries every day continue to sign up for coverage through the Online Enrollment Center at www.medicare.gov.
Seniors Say They Are Satisfied With Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage
According To An AARP Poll, 78 Percent Of Seniors Enrolled Are Satisfied With Their Medicare Drug Coverage. A U.S. Chamber of Commerce poll also finds that 78 percent of seniors enrolled are satisfied with their drug coverage. Ninety percent say they understand how their plan works and how to use it and 52 percent say they are enjoying a significant cost savings. ("Enrollees' Perceptions of Medicare Part D: Three Months and Counting," AARP, April 2006; U.S. Chamber Of Commerce, "Nationwide Poll Of Seniors Shows High Level Of Satisfaction With Medicare Prescription Drug Plan," Press Release, 4/25/06)
CALIFORNIA: Clara Takigawa, 89: "'She solved everything for me,' Takigawa said, referring to the Medicare counselor who had helped her zero in on a plan." (Sukhjit Purewal, "Medicare Plan Made Simple(r)," The Monterey Herald, 4/20/06)
- MISSISSPPI: Richard Anderson: "Richard Anderson of Hattiesburg, who enrolled when he turned 65 a couple of years back, says an instructional session through AARP helped him find the plan that works for him, and in preparation for our chat, 'I went through prescriptions for February (2006) and found I had a net savings of $230.51,' Anderson said.'" (Jean Prescott, "Some Get Part D Delay," The Sun Herald [Biloxi, MS], 4/23/06)
- ILLINOIS: Robert Ayo: "'The process was easy,' he wrote in an e-mail. 'The government booklet, "Medicare and You," outlined the available plans.'" (Marni Pyke, "Clock Ticking On Part D Singup," Chicago Daily Herald, 4/16/06)
- OHIO: Kenimer Tucker: "He received an insurance card from Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, and paid about $75 for each of his prescriptions that month. Then, Tucker said Medicare informed him that he had received the wrong card. They sent him a new card from Humana insurance company. He pays about $25 total for his prescriptions every month. 'I like this,' he said. 'I haven't had trouble. No trouble at all.'" (Rachel Streitfeld, "Seniors Face May 15 Deadline To Sign Up Under Medicare Part D," Zanesville Times-Recorder [Ohio], 5/1/06)
Medicare's May 15 Enrollment Deadline Is Approaching
The GAO Report Is "Reviving Calls By Democrats To Extend The May 15 Deadline." (Ceci Connolly, "Study Finds Medicare Operators Often Give Bad Information," The Washington Post, 5/4/06)
But More Than 30 Million People Have Signed Up For The Medicare Drug Benefit, Surpassing The Administration's Enrollment Goal Of 28 To 30 Million Beneficiaries. If enrollment rates continue at the current pace, the government may enroll 90 percent of the estimated 42 million eligible seniors by the May 15 deadline.
- More Than Thirty Million Seniors Enrolled Means More Than 71 Percent Of Eligible Beneficiaries Are Receiving Coverage.
- About 6 Million People Do Not Need To Enroll Because They Have Other Coverage. I.E., they are covered by VA, Indian Health, or they are still working.
Many People May Be Assisted By The Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit But Do Not Realize It. As of March 23, there were 11 million seniors with retiree coverage partially subsidized by the federal government and 5.8 million seniors were auto-enrolled. This month, CMS is auto enrolling about 1 million low income seniors that have not picked a plan but qualify for extra help.
USA Today Editorial: "The deadline is forcing seniors - and their adult children - to act. Note that one in eight taxpayers file in the week before April 15. ... Congress rejected an extension in February. With almost a month to go, it should resist the temptation to change its mind." (Editorial, "Views Of Medicare Plan Shift," USA Today, 4/17/06)
- USA Today: "There's Plenty Of Help Available To Make A Decision Now." "Also, there's plenty of help available to make a decision now. Social service agencies, state insurance departments and pharmacies are helping seniors navigate the system. More than 1,000 enrollment seminars are held each week." (Editorial, "Views Of Medicare Plan Shift," USA Today, 4/17/06)
George W. Bush, Setting the Record Straight: GAO's Inaccurate, Incomplete, And Outdated Medicare Report Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/282374