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Comments at CU Medicare Web site shows vast confusion over benefit

Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Contact: Bill Vaughan, 202-462-6262

Dazed and Confused: Early Consumer Reaction to Shopping for Medicare Drug Plans
Comments at Consumers Union Medicare Web site shows vast confusion over benefit
Confusion likely to occur again next fall, Consumers Union warns

(Washington, D.C.) – Confusion, confusion and more confusion is the overriding reaction from seniors and others shopping for plans under the new Medicare drug benefit, according to initial responses to Consumers Union’s Medicare Web site where consumers can log their comments about the benefit and problems they are encountering. The Web site is www.consumersunion.org/issues/medicaredrugs.
Respondents overwhelmingly said they could not find clear enough information about the drug benefit, from either the government or the private plans.
“I don’t know what to do,” said one Hawaii resident. “I got things in the mail that told me I could sign up free, then I got other things that told me if I didn’t sign up for their program that after Nov 15 I would have to pay more. I don’t know what to do or what to believe.” [Note: after May 15, 2006, some who have not enrolled will face a penalty of at least 1% higher premium per month for each month they delay.]
Bill Vaughan, senior policy analyst for Consumers Union, said the reaction is expected given the overwhelming number of plans and options seniors have to choose from and a lack of clear information about how plans will control the use of the drugs they say they will cover..
“The comments to Consumers Union highlight the urgent need for more one-on-one counseling of seniors to help explain the new program,” Vaughan said. “The best advice today is to take your time—there is no need to sign up immediately. In fact, if people wait, the phone lines won’t be so tied up, and the computer system will respond more quickly. Save yourself a hassle and take your time.”
“Folks are used to having one trusted, stable health program in Medicare. But Congress didn’t give seniors that option with the new drug benefit, so they are left to fend for themselves to try and pick between dozens and dozens of confusing plans,” Vaughan said.
“We predict this confusion will occur again next fall, unless Congress reforms the program and simplifies it,” predicted Vaughan. “There are too many plans to survive economically; a lot of them will drop out or change their benefit package and raise rates next autumn, unless Congress makes some needed changes.”
The Web site, www.consumersunion.org/issues/medicaredrugs, allows consumers to react to their experience shopping for a drug plan, as well as comment on how well the plan they selected covers their needed drugs after the benefit kicks in Jan. 1. The site also includes information, fraud tips and links to other useful sites.
“We need to hear from consumers about which plans are good and which are turkeys,” said Vaughan. “Feedback from consumers can help people know which plans do a better job.”