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 Report Says Medicare Health Plan Tool Needs Major Overhaul

A tool used by older Americans and others to explore which Medicare health plans to purchase needs improvement, notably in the areas of gauging plan costs and providers’ in-network status, according to a recent report and corresponding scorecard by the Clear Choices Campaign, a health care cost transparency initiative of the Council for Affordable Health Coverage and National Council on Aging (NCOA).

The tool, Medicare Plan Finder (MPF), is marketed as a reliable and accessible information source for seniors, but the report said beneficiaries are not experiencing that promise when they make decisions about coverage options in fee-for-service Medicare and Medicare Parts C (Medicare Advantage) and D (Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit).

“The scorecard gives the MPF ‘A’ grades only for its anonymous browsing capabilities and non-English translation services. MPF earned ‘D’ or ‘F’ grades in seven other criteria,” said the report, titled, “Modernizing Medicare Plan Finder: Evaluating and Improving Medicare’s Online Comparison Shopping Experience.”

The report provides 11 suggestions for making the MPF work better. They are:

--Display costs more prominently;

--Base estimated out-of-pocket costs on more detailed information;

--Integrate a provider directory;

--Use saved information about consumers’ prescription drugs;

--Permit consumers to compare Medicare Advantage plans with an equivalent combination of fee-for-service, Medigap, and standalone drug plans;

--Redesign the layout and display to make navigation easier;

--Replace insurance “jargon” with plainer language and more graphics;

--Install a web chat feature;

--Enable the website to suggest plan options;

--Ensure more stringent oversight of MPF’s accuracy; and

--Test the website with consumers on a regular basis.

To arrive at its conclusions, Clear Choices and NCOA staff reviewed all online MPF functions, interviewed 25 Medicare beneficiaries, and surveyed Medicare State Health Insurance Assistance Program directors.

“The findings highlight a number of MPF challenges for beneficiaries, ranging from the unavailability of human support, to language that is unfamiliar to the typical consumer, to confusing out-of-pocket cost estimates,” the report authors said.

Find the report at

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