New Medicare handbook fails to give consumers real quality data on plans


New Medicare Handbook Fails to Give Consumers Real Quality Data on Plans

(Washington, D.C.) – A random sample of the geographic-specific Medicare handbooks being mailed to beneficiaries finds that the majority of plans failed to provide simple, consumer-quality data to Medicare, Consumers Union has found. The following letter was sent to Medicare officials outlining why this information is critical for consumers, who face daunting decisions again this fall selecting a Medicare plan.
Contact:
Bill Vaughan, CU, 202-462-6262
________________________________________________________________________
October 23, 2006
Acting Administrator Leslie Norwalk
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
Department of Health and Human Services
Washington, DC 20201
Dear Administrator Norwalk:
Consumers Union, the independent, non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports, has just reviewed a sample of the 40 geographical Medicare & You handbooks that provide detailed information on Medicare health plans in various cities, states, and regions.
We are very disappointed to report that almost no consumer information has been provided on Medicare Advantage Plans and other Medicare Plans.
Under the Medicare law (sec. 1851(d)) CMS is

“to broadly disseminate information to medicare beneficiaries…on the coverage options provided under this section in order to promote an active, informed selection among such options….. To the extent available, plan quality and performance indicators for the benefits under the plan, including— … (ii) information on medicare enrollee satisfaction,….

Plans apparently were asked to report on one piece of information: the percent of enrollees who rated their care ‘as the best.’ One piece of quality information — particularly something as subjective as ‘best’ — is inadequate for beneficiaries to make truly informed decisions when selecting a Medicare plan. But what prompts this letter, and what is particularly disturbing, is that in our random sample of 12 of the 40 English language, geographic-specific Medicare & You handbook versions, a majority of plans did not even provide that simple data. In Utah, as an extreme example, all 17 companies failed to provide the data in time for it to be printed.
Assuming that the CMS Handbook is accurate, it appears that many plans do not take seriously reporting consumer quality data in a timely manner to CMS. As the handbook states, “If ‘Information Not Available’ appears in the charts, Medicare didn’t get the information in time to print it.” The data that was supposed to be reported was described by CMS as “Results of one measure from the Medicare Satisfaction Survey conducted January-April 2006.”
We urge that in the future, if a plan does not provide consumer quality information in time for print, that you include no information about the plan in the handbook. The threat of not being listed in CMS publications would increase the level of cooperation and, even though the data is inadequate, it would at least give consumers some small hint of which plans have treated their customers with respect and courtesy.
In the interim, we hope that you will encourage consumers to ask a plan for this survey data before they join.
Following is the data from our quick survey:

Geographic Publication
"Cluster"
Number of Companies offering plans
(many offer more than one plan variation)
Number reported by CMS as not
having provided data in time
New York City
24
15
Northern California
21
12
Utah
17
17
Idaho
16
14
Oklahoma
17
14
Kansas
17
15
MT, ND, SD, WY
46
43
Wisconsin
22
15
Illinois
33
25
Eastern Ohio
26
19
Colorado
19
15
Nevada
16
12

As you know, Consumers Union has been working with CMS to encourage the publication of useful consumer data on Medicare Part D plans in time for this fall’s Open Enrollment season. While that information is not yet available, we understand that some information will soon be made public. We hope that effort will be more helpful than the very poor response to consumer quality issues by Medicare HMOs, PPOs, and other plans — and we urge you to do more to make the Medicare Advantage program more consumer-shopping friendly in the future.
Sincerely,
William Vaughan
Senior Policy Analyst
Delani Gunawardena
Health Staff Assistant