MEDICARE+CHOICE: HCFA Pares Down Guidebook Distribution
Fearing elderly Medicare beneficiaries would be "utterly confused" by health care options described in a new consumer guide, the federal government decided Friday to limit the handbook's initial distribution. The "abrupt change of plans" means the Health Care Financing Administration will send the guide to just 5.5 million beneficiaries in five states instead of the 38 million nationwide it had originally planned, the New York Times reports. "It's desirable to have more testing and evaluation of the handbook before we mail it to all 38 million beneficiaries," HCFA Deputy Administrator Michael Hash said. The consumer guide is part of the government's campaign to inform Medicare beneficiaries about the new options that will soon be included in the federal program. Recent studies, including one by the American Association of Retired Persons, show that seniors lack the basic knowledge about health care options that would allow them to make informed decisions about the new Medicare options. On Capitol Hill, legislators have criticized the handbook since its inception, "saying it would prompt a flood of questions from confused consumers." Last week, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said he was "surprised" by HCFA's "sudden change of plans" about the guidebook's distribution. But Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) said the decision to pare down the distribution process "will bring a bit of sanity to what's going to be a tumultuous happening among senior citizens" (Pear, 6/20).
To Be Announced Today
At a two-day conference on health care and the family, Vice President Al Gore today will "announce a new public-private Medicare Council, through which about 80 organizations would work to ensure that the elderly get information on preventive care and wellness," the AP/Los Angeles Times reports (Ross, 6/22). Gore will also announce that starting July 1, Medicare will cover "bone mass measurement tests to detect osteoporosis and diabetes education." The government also plans a new Internet site (www.medicare.gov) "to provide information to Medicare beneficiaries and their families, especially" on the new Medicare+Choice options (Page, USA Today, 6/22).