Research Critical of Drug Plan Pricing, Language Services
More than 25% of Medicare drug plans increased beneficiaries' copayments and prices for prescription drugs in 2006, often after beneficiaries were committed to plans for the year, according to a study released Wednesday by Consumers Union, USA Today reports.
For the study, researchers examined cost information provided by insurers to CMS and listed on the Medicare Web site. The study tracked price fluctuations of five commonly used drugs among 225 insurers in five states.
According to the study, 62 insurers increased beneficiaries' costs by at least 5% last year. Most insurers increased costs by less than 10%, but six increased costs by 10% or more. One plan increased costs by 32%, or by $795 for the five drugs, during 2006, according to the study.
In addition, 22% of plans between January and February raised drug costs by 5% or more.
Consumers Union said beneficiaries should be able to switch plans if costs in their initial plan increase by more than 5%. Consumers Union also has called for more consumer information about cost fluctuations.
The health insurance industry and CMS said the report only examined a limited number of drugs, and most beneficiaries are satisfied with the program and saving money. CMS officials said that most drug plan beneficiaries are not affected by price changes unless they are within the so-called "doughnut hole" coverage gap, where they must pay the full price of a drug.
Acting CMS Administrator Leslie Norwalk in a written statement said, "Approximately 90% of Part D beneficiaries pay copays that do not fluctuate during the year. These consumers are generally shielded from any price changes" (Appleby, USA Today, 3/1).
The study is available online. Note: You must have Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the report.
Medicare drug benefit customer service representatives are able to provide services to beneficiaries with limited English proficiency in their primary languages 55% of the time, according to report by the National Senior Citizens Law Center, the Deseret Morning News reports.
For the report, speakers of 11 languages other than English made 417 telephone calls to Medicare drug benefit customer service representatives. Callers used English only to name the language they were speaking or an associated country when requesting an interpreter.
The report found that non-Spanish speakers received service in their primary language 37% of the time, Hmong callers were assisted 5% of the time and Spanish speakers were helped in their language 71% of the time.
Report author Kendra Nicole Scalia said the findings indicate the need for more federal oversight of the program and recommended better training for customer service representatives in recognizing language needs and how to transfer callers accordingly.
Mike Fierberg, Denver regional spokesperson for CMS, said the findings of the study do not account for other factors, such as community partners who can help limited English speakers obtain the services they need (Bulkeley, Deseret Morning News, 2/28).
The report is available online. Note: You must have Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the report.