CMS Launches Online Medicare Drug Benefit Comparison Tool
CMS on Monday launched its "long-promised Internet tool" that allows beneficiaries to compare prescription drug plans available under the new Medicare drug benefit, the Wall Street Journal reports (Lueck, Wall Street Journal, 11/8). The tool, which originally had been scheduled to launch in mid-October, was delayed first because of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur and then again because the data necessary to run the tool were incomplete.
CMS Administrator Mark McClellan said the tool would become operational before Nov. 15, the date when Medicare beneficiaries can begin to enroll in the prescription drug benefit, with coverage scheduled to begin on Jan. 1, 2006 (California Healthline, 10/21).
The prescription drug plan finder, which is available online on Medicare.gov, shows beneficiaries how much they will pay in premiums and drug costs under each plan in their area, as well as how much they can reduce their costs by substituting generic or other drugs for more expensive medications (Wolfe, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 11/8). Beneficiaries can enter information such as what types of drugs they take and how much they are willing to spend in out-of-pocket costs.
The program then sorts through the plans offered in the beneficiary's area and lists those that meet the specified criteria (Freking, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 11/7). The plans in the beneficiary's area are ranked by annual cost (Lee, Washington Post, 11/8).
Beneficiaries also can compare what they would pay under a Medicare Advantage plan and a stand-alone plan. In addition, the tool allows beneficiaries to input their Medicare number and birth date to receive more personalized information, such as whether a former employer is offering drug coverage or if a low-income person qualifies for extra financial aid (Wall Street Journal, 11/8).
At a briefing on Monday to announce the tool's launch, McClellan provided a "how-to demonstration" of the tool, the Post reports. He said, "Now the cost information is there. It will show how Medicare's prescription drug coverage can save a beneficiary money. ... This is an unprecedented program in terms of the level of detail available about prescription drug costs on your medicines at your local pharmacy" (Washington Post, 11/8). He added, "There are some very good deals here with substantial savings" (CQ HealthBeat, 11/7).
McClellan said not all insurers had provided the necessary information to have their plans included in the tool as of Monday (Wall Street Journal, 11/8). He added that information on the tool will be updated weekly and plans could lower drug prices in the coming weeks as they gauge their competition. He also said CMS does not expect plans to change which drugs they cover "very often" (CQ HealthBeat, 11/7).
McClellan said beneficiaries who do not wish to use the tool or are unfamiliar with computers can obtain personalized plan comparisons by calling the Medicare hotline (Wall Street Journal, 11/8).
Janine Stiles, health programs manager at the Minnesota Senior Federation, said, "Finally we can do something for people who are calling us every day for help choosing a plan" (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 11/8).
Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said that even with the tool, finding a Medicare drug plan remains a very arduous, time consuming and confusing process." He added, "This is not a realistic way for them to have confidence that they are in a good position" to choose a plan (CQ HealthBeat, 11/7).
Additional information about the Medicare drug benefit also is available online.