Medicare Not Taking Questions

September 16th, 2008 | Sources: Wall Street Journal, WSJ Health Blog

A frequently used toll-free help line for Medicare beneficiaries either gives out inaccurate information or no information at all, according to a report presented to the Senate Aging Committee.

The service in question is 1-800-Medicare. It is supposed to help beneficiaries find their way through the complex federal health insurance program.

Recently, Sen. Gordon Smith (D-Ore) had his staff place 500 test calls to the help line. Staff members found that the information they received was inadequate 90% of the time.  Callers to the toll free number are also plagued by wait times up to an hour and frequent dropped calls, according to the report.

1-800-Medicare will receive 30 million calls this year. It has been in operation for 10 years. Volume ramped up substantially in 2003 when Medicare’s Part D prescription drug plan went into effect.

CMS acting administrator Kerry Weems said Medicare will improve performance of the toll free service by upgrading training and improving the call center’s data bases. A senior officer at Vangent Inc., the contractor that operates the 1-800-Medicare call centers, pointed out that 85% of callers were actually satisfied with the program. He added that most real world callers had simpler issues than the ones posed by Smith’s staff.


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