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Medicare drug plan ratings confusing

Friday, October 12, 2007

Medicare Prescription Drug Rating System Useless for Most Seniors Shopping for a Plan

CU Urges Consumer-Friendly Ratings

(Washington, D.C.) – As seniors prepare to shop for Medicare Part D prescription drug plans during open enrollment season, Consumers Union says the agency’s current method of rating the quality of private plans is utterly confusing and meaningless for most seniors trying to compare plans, and is urging the system be completely reformed.
In a letter sent to CMS Acting Administrator Kerry Weems, CU suggests the existing system be replaced with consumer-friendly ratings, including which plans raised drug prices the most, how many drugs a plan stopped covering during the year, how accurately and quickly they answer the phone, and the number of times a plan turned down consumers’ requests to get their drugs covered.
Click here to read the complete letter.
“The current rating system includes data that ranges from utterly confusing to utterly meaningless – which runs counter to the goal of giving beneficiaries clear, crisp information to make informed choices,” said Bill Vaughan, senior health policy analyst who examined the agency’s quality data.
For example, Vaughan notes that the current quality data includes items about a company’s beneficiary records and the ease for pharmacist in filling a prescription, but doesn’t rate companies on how much they increased drug prices during the year, or if a company has more lower-cost generics on its drug list than high-priced brands.
The agency’s broad ratings also make it difficult for consumers to distinguish much difference among plans. In the category of ‘other complaints’ by customers, all the national companies scored within .22 percent of each other. Vaughan suggests CMS clearly rate the plans, grouping them in the best five or worst five, or other ratings that make sense to Medicare Part D shoppers.
“The current system makes all plans look good and therefore tells the consumers nothing,” Vaughan said. “The agency needs to stop treating all plans like they are from Garrison Keillor’s Lake Woebegon, and are ‘all above average.’ There are poorer quality plans, and it should be made easy for consumers to identify them and avoid them.”