Updated: Oct 6
Technical glitches could mean that some Medicare beneficiaries chose plans based on bad information from the government’s revamped, error-prone Plan Finder website. Beneficiaries could be stuck in plans that cost too much and don’t meet their medical needs — with no way out until 2021.
Since Medicare’s annual open enrollment ended in December, Takacs McGinnis has received several phone calls from clients concerned about how errors on Medicare’s Plan Finder site may affect them.
This is a very concerning situation. We want our clients and Medicare beneficiaries everywhere to know that this is a national problem with the new Medicare Plan Finder system. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency responsible for administering the Medicare system, published the incorrect information themselves.
Unfortunately, there are more questions than answers at this point.
Here’s what happened. Medicare’s overhauled Plan Finder debuted at the end of August, and 2020 plan information was added in October. Over the past three months, Plan Finder problems reported to CMS included inaccurate details about prices, covered drugs and dosages, and difficulty sorting and saving search results, among other things.
CMS made almost daily corrections and fixes to the website, which is the only tool that can compare dozens of private drug and medical plans ― each with different pharmacy networks, covered drugs and drug prices. The website provides information for more than 60 million people with Medicare and their families, as well as state Medicare counselors and the representatives who answer the 800-MEDICARE help line.
Several weeks ago, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services told Kaiser Health News that beneficiaries would have access to Special Enrollment Periods (SEP) in order to change plans next year because of Plan Finder misinformation, although officials provided few details. The Medicare.gov website says nothing about that option.
Fifteen Senate Democrats sent a letter to Medicare Administrator Seema Verma asking the agency to widely publicize the existing SEP for people who were misled by information in the Medicare Plan Finder and to make switching plans easy.
CMS officials said that beneficiaries can get special enrollment periods for a number of reasons, including problems with the Plan Finder. CMS officials advise people affected by Plan Finder glitches to call 1-800-MEDICARE and explain to call center representatives that they have an issue with their plan choice. Beneficiaries will be able to start the process of changing plans during that call.
People who enroll in a private Medicare Advantage policy, an alternative to traditional government-run Medicare that covers both drugs and medical care, already have an alternative. They have until March 31 to change plans or enroll in traditional Medicare.
What happens next? We will watch for announcements from CMS about how they intend to make things right for people who chose plans based on bad information. At this time, there are no formal Special Enrollment Periods offered by CMS, but Joshua Hunter is researching the matter, and working with state contacts to address and correct this issue.
In the meantime, if you’re a Medicare beneficiary or you’re caring for someone who is, pay close attention to your insurance statements. If you haven’t filled any prescriptions for medications this year, check on your drug plan. If you notice that your drug plan is not working properly, or something seems off, call a Joshua Hunter or another knowledgeable Medicare professional immediately. Choosing the wrong plan based on misinformation on the government’s own site could be an expensive mistake, and the quicker you move on this matter, the more money you can save.