Error in Online Medicare Drug Benefit Tool Artificially Raising Some Prices
A "glitch" in the online Medicare Drug Plan Finder is "artificially inflating some annual cost estimates" for drug plans, CMS officials said on Tuesday, USA Today reports. According to USA Today, the situation came to light after Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and members of the media asked CMS why some of the cost estimates for the drug plans had changed since the tool launched earlier this month.
CMS spokesperson Gary Karr said that the agency updates the Web site weekly as it receives new information from drug plans, which can change their prices. However, he added 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 went live, USA Today reports.
Karr said CMS is working to address the issue and noted that officials are aware of only one other similar problem. However, he said the agency cannot rule out related problems in other plans. CMS expects drug prices to change, possibly quarterly, Karr said, adding, "In general, we have not seen much price fluctuation at all, and some price drops."
Gail Shearer, a policy analyst at Consumers Union, said, "Seniors and the disabled want a plan they can trust. If prices are moving around, it certainly sets off alarm bells" (Appleby, USA Today, 11/30).
In related news, Glenn Hubbard, former chair of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, said the Bush administration's decision to expand Medicare to include prescription drug coverage was "unwise," the Wall Street Journal reports. Hubbard, currently dean of the Columbia University Business School, made the comment during a Wall Street Journal online exchange with Robert Reich, former secretary of labor in the Clinton administration and currently a professor at Brandeis University.
Hubbard said, "The Medicare expansion without substantial reform of the system was unwise fiscal policy. The current Social Security and Medicare systems are on an unsustainable path. In both cases, sound fiscal reform should involve slower benefit growth for high-income households. In addition, fiscal reform for Medicare must be accompanied by reform of health care markets."
Reich said, "Much of [the Bush administration's] new spending -- especially on national defense, homeland security and Medicare prescription drugs -- will go on for years. The drug benefit is a new entitlement. This isn't sustainable over the long haul, and I don't think it's sustainable even over the next five years" (Wall Street Journal, 11/30).
Additional information about the Medicare drug benefit also is available online.