Satisfaction With Medicare Hot Line Declines, Poll Finds
Customer satisfaction with the federal government's Medicare hot line has declined, according to a report released on Thursday by the HHS Office of Inspector General, the AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.
The study is based on a poll of 206 people who called the hotline during one week in late January.
Researchers found a satisfaction rate of 71% -- a 13 percentage point drop compared with a similar study conducted in 2004. The study also found that 44% of callers said they had difficulty accessing information, which was about the same in 2004 (Freking, AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 9/28).
The share of callers hanging up before having their questions answered increased to 21%, compared to 12% in 2004, the study found (Reuters, 9/27). In addition, two-thirds of the callers said they hung up because of long wait times, according to the study. Only five of the callers surveyed received answers to their questions from the automated system callers reach before speaking to an operator, the study found (AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 9/28).
The hot line received 49 million calls in 2006 -- a 68% increase from 2004.
The inspector general's report recommended that CMS review the automated system and possibly simplify it, and assess whether more staff should be hired (Reuters, 9/27). Tens of thousands of people call the hot line daily, with some days having in excess of 100,000 calls. The hot line is run by private contractors hired by HHS, whose names were not disclosed in the report. A footnote in the study said since the survey was conducted, one company has been handling all of the hot line's calls.
CMS' official response, which was included in the report, stated that the agency would be conducting a study to determine why callers are not receiving the proper information (AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 9/28). The agency also said it would try to simplify the automated system, but it "will continue to have some hold times due to budget limitations."
Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) in a letter to CMS acting Administrator Kerry Weems on Friday called attention to the HHS OIG report and offered Weems his "congratulations" for being named "the lucky guy who gets to clean up the mess your predecessors left behind." Stark added, "Based on CMS' record, I can only assume the agency selected the private contractor whose service left beneficiaries less satisfied and more frustrated" (CQ HealthBeat, 9/28). The HHS report is available online (.pdf).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.