Scully Lays Out Goal of Expanding Medicare Beneficiaries’ Use of the Internet
A $35 million Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services advertising campaign to be conducted this fall will target Medicare beneficiaries, seeking to make them more aware of the Web-based services the agency (formerly HCFA) has to offer, Administrator Thomas Scully said yesterday. Speaking at a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee on science, technology and space hearing on eHealth, Scully said that although the percentage of seniors with Internet access has increased in the past five years from 7% to 31%, very few Medicare beneficiaries take advantage of information found on the Medicare Web site. "Seniors like Medicare, it's a popular program, but our polling and focus groups show they really don't know much about it," he said. To alert seniors to the resource, the agency will conduct an educational campaign --
part of a broader agency overhaul -- from October through December 2001 that it expects will reach 97% of seniors.
The campaign's $35 million price tag is comparable to the cost of running a presidential campaign for two months, Scully noted, adding, "So that's the level of impact we're looking to have this fall educating seniors." Scully said that he would like Medicare beneficiaries to use both the Web site and the 1-800-MEDICARE phone number to obtain information about measures of quality care. Using an enlarged computer display, Scully demonstrated to subcommittee members how dialysis patients can use Dialysis Facility Compare, one of the Medicare site's many comparative tools, to obtain information about dialysis centers. Noting that Medicare covers 86% of the $14 billion in annual U.S. dialysis costs, he said, "We're paying the bills -- everyone on dialysis should have the information to pick the right dialysis center." Looking toward the potential of eHealth to help beneficiaries navigate Medicare more easily, Scully said, "Our goal is to basically get every senior in the country ... aware of the coverage that is available to them, aware of the options that are available to them, get them to ask questions, and get good, quick answers from the Medicare system" (John Kastellec, California Healthline, 7/24).