MEDICARE+CHOICE: Concerns About Consumer Education
Today's New York Times reports that members of Congress and consumer groups believe that most Medicare recipients "are likely to be thoroughly confused" about new Medicare choices that will be available later this year. The changes, approved under last year's balanced budget law, will offer seniors a wide variety of health plan options. While the "government plans an extensive education and publicity campaign," many are questioning whether seniors will be able to understand the complex choices they are about to be offered. American Association of Retired Persons' John Rother said, "Most beneficiaries will have a hard time sorting through the new choices because of their complexity, and because the Medicare population has very little experience with managed care. It's not what they had when they were working."
The federal government has produced an information handbook it will distribute to all Medicare recipients. But Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) said, "I am really worried that when 38 million beneficiaries -- 26 million households -- get the new medicare handbook, confusion will reign. Our casework staff will be inundated with questions just before the November elections." Illene Gordon, a caseworker for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), "predicted that congressional offices would 'be flooded with calls' from constituents baffled by the Medicare options." Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) went so far as to call the handbook "a waste of $40 million." Dr. Robert Berenson, a top Medicare official, "said he doubted that his 85 year-old mother would fully understand the new options, even though she used to work in a doctor's office."
Getting Ready For The Flood
According to the Times, the Medicare program "will answer questions about the new program on a toll-free telephone line. But the toll-free service will not be immediately available in all states, and consumer advocates predict that callers will face long waits because Medicare has not hired enough operators." Michael Hash, deputy administrator of the Health Care Financing Administration, "estimated that the government would need more than 2,000 people to answer calls at the busiest times of day" (Pear, 6/10).
A Big Issue
Click here to listen to a National Public Radio report on the upcoming Medicare changes.