Computer Problem With Medicare Drug Plan Finder Fixed
CMS said it has addressed problems related to inaccurate information in the Medicare Drug Plan Finder, USA Today reports (Appleby, USA Today, 12/1).
CMS spokesperson Gary Karr said that a problem related to computer data had inflated drug prices artificially for the Medicare Rx Rewards Premier plan offered by UniCare. The cost estimate for the plan had increased by more than $1,250 since the tool was activated (California Healthline, 11/30).
CMS on Tuesday fixed problems involving incorrect monthly copayments listed for plans offered by UniCare and CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield. The computer problems improperly raised their annual cost estimates. The fix resulted in UniCare's plan cost estimate dropping by $1,296.
Karr said other errors discovered since the Web site went live last month have been addressed.
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) on Tuesday in a letter to CMS officials said the Web site should warn users that even without errors, plans' cost estimates can change weekly as insurers update their drug selection.
Consumers Union on Wednesday in a letter to CMS Administrator Mark McClellan said the price changes "create the potential for consumer deception and anger."
Karr said beneficiaries should remember that they do not need to find "the perfect plan" because "many options would work." He also said the prices likely will not change substantially before the drug benefit begins (USA Today, 12/1).
In other Medicare news, Pennsylvania and CMS have reached an agreement that will allow the state to use its existing PACE and PACENET prescription drug assistance programs as wrap-around benefits with the new Medicare drug coverage, Gov. Ed Rendell (D) announced on Wednesday.
Under the agreement, the Pennsylvania Department of Aging will choose four or five Medicare drug plans -- including Highmark, Independence Blue Cross of Philadelphia and First Health Life and Health Insurance -- that will coordinate benefits for the 300,000 PACE and PACENET beneficiaries. The beneficiaries will remain in their PACE program but also will enroll in one of the pre-selected Medicare drug plans. The state will provide the beneficiaries with partly completed program applications, which health officials hope will improve the enrollment process, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
PACE beneficiaries currently pay $6 for generic drugs and $9 for brand-name drugs, and those who qualify for additional low-income subsidies under the new Medicare benefit will pay less, McClellan said.
Rendell said he will ask the state Legislature to cover part of the Medicare drug plan premiums for PACE and PACENET beneficiaries who do not qualify for the additional subsidies. He also said the PACE coverage will help fill the so-called doughnut hole in the Medicare drug program, a gap in coverage when drug costs for a year reach $2,250 to $5,100.
PACE Director Tom Snedden said Pennsylvania expects to save $100 million between January and June of 2006 by shifting drug costs from PACE to Medicare (Snowbeck, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/1).
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said, "The agreement ensures that Pennsylvanians in PACE can continue their same level of benefits, and that Pennsylvania seniors and people with a disability who are not in PACE can get access to prescription drug coverage in 2006 through Medicare" (HHS release, 11/30).
Additional information about the Medicare drug benefit also is available online.