CMS To Launch Online Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit Plan Comparison Tool on Monday
A new online tool allowing Medicare beneficiaries to compare prescription drug plans will launch Monday, following an earlier delay, CMS officials announced Thursday, the Washington Post reports. The tool had been scheduled to launch on Thursday on the Medicare Web site. However, federal officials decided to delay the launch because of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur, which also fell on Thursday. "We wanted to respect all the partners out there and their religious beliefs," CMS spokesperson Gary Karr said (Lee, Washington Post, 10/14).
He said volunteers, not-for-profit groups and others need to undergo training on how to use the site, and officials thought the training should not take place on Yom Kippur (Freking, AP/Detroit Free Press, 10/14). Beginning next week, Medicare beneficiaries will be able to access the tool and input data, such as where they live, the types of drugs they take and how much they want to pay in premiums and deductibles.
"You'll be able to plug in essentially what's important to you," Karr said, adding, "Folks shouldn't be anxious about making the perfect choice. Once you narrow it down to the things you think you need, there is not a wrong choice there. You're fine." Karr also noted that beneficiaries should have enough time to compare plans because enrollment begins Nov. 15 and runs through May 15.
According to the Post, the new online tool is part of the federal government's $300 million, three-year effort to educate Medicare beneficiaries about the new drug benefit. Beginning Monday, Medicare representatives will be available to answer questions about the new benefit at 1-800-633-4227. In addition, CMS is running a series of radio and television ads and focusing on individual counseling of beneficiaries through local community groups.
Beneficiaries say they are more likely to decide whether to enroll in the benefit after one-on-one counseling or other direct contact than after receiving information by mail, according to a study released Thursday by Medicare Today, a coalition of pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, employers and not-for-profit organizations. The study also found that beneficiaries prefer to receive information from an undefined "Medicare expert" without any chance to gain politically from promoting the coverage, rather than from providers and family members.
Medicare officials said the training sessions for community group members and employees of unrelated federal agencies -- such as USDA and the Department of Labor -- are intended to provide beneficiaries with such neutral experts (Washington Post, 10/14).
In related news, Cigna has announced plans to partner with Kmart pharmacies to offer a cobranded Medicare prescription drug plan and to help educate beneficiaries about the new drug benefit. Financial details of the partnership were not available, the Chicago Tribune reports.
Marketing materials and drug cards available through the partnership will contain both the Cigna and Kmart names and will be the same as Medicare drug plans Cigna offers in other areas. Cigna currently is seeking other co-branding relationships, the company said (Chicago Tribune, 10/14).
Additional information on the Medicare drug benefit is available online.