In Final Days of Medicare Enrollment Period, CMS Continues to Deny Problems with Medicare Plan Finder, Which Could Hurt BeneficiariesPosted in Article
The Medicare Annual Coordinated Election Period (ACEP) is the period during which individuals review their Medicare coverage for the next year and consider their options. At this time, beneficiaries can return to or continue in Traditional Medicare, or can make changes to their Medicare Advantage (MA) or Part D prescription drug plan (PDP). The Period ends on December 7, 2019.
Individuals who are enrolled in an MA plan as of January 1 will be able to switch MA plans or disenroll from MA and return to Traditional Medicare and pick up a stand-alone Part D plan (PDP). The opportunity to make these changes last only for the first 3 months of the calendar year, and people who already have stand-alone PDPs do not have this right.
As discussed below, there have been inaccuracies in the Medicare Plan Finder (MPF) – the primary tool that people use to research their coverage options and changes. For individuals who rely on bad information to their detriment, there might be a Special Enrollment Period (SEP) right to change to a different plan. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), however, is failing to publicly acknowledge these MPF problems, which could deter individuals from knowing about and seeking relief through an SEP.
In the November 27 CMS blog entitled “We’re Heading into the Last Week of Medicare Open Enrollment – Don’t Miss Out on Your Chance to Find Better Coverage,” the agency complains about media reports outlining problems with the Medicare Plan Finder, but fails to acknowledge that there have actually been any problems:
CMS has been distressed to see media coverage talking about “glitches” or “malfunctions” in the Plan Finder. Let’s be clear: the new Plan Finder has experienced no outages since it was launched. It displays the most current and accurate information on premiums, deductibles and cost sharing that Medicare Advantage and Prescription Drug Plans provide.
The day before CMS’ November 27 blog, an article about the Plan Finder published by AARP noted that:
“[t]he Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) says the issues that have come to the agency’s attention so far ‘are not inaccuracies but rather user error or confusion’” [emphasis added].
Special Enrollment Period (SEP)
This lack of acknowledgment on the part of CMS could undermine awareness of, and the ability of people to utilize, an SEP if they relied on misinformation. Though they disavowed any problems, CMS did acknowledge this right in their blog:
Of course we want to ensure that beneficiaries are confident in their decisions and happy with the coverage they choose… we’ve always had a Special Enrollment Period for people who think they made a wrong choice due to inaccurate information.
However, failing to acknowledge that there have been significant problems with the Plan Finder this year, including erroneous information – and instead referring to an SEP “we’ve always had” – minimizes the errors upon which people made decisions that are not in their best interest. This may serve as a deterrent to seek an SEP for those who are unsure about, don’t recall or don’t have evidence about inaccurate information they obtained through the Plan Finder. Further, what message is CMS leadership sending its employees who must process and issue decisions concerning request for SEPs? If the message is “nothing happened” or “nothing to see here” will that deter CMS staff from providing needed SEP relief to beneficiaries?
The Center for Medicare Advocacy urges CMS to correct the problems with the Medicare Plan Finder and ensure a Special Enrollment Period for individuals who relied upon erroneous MPF information; the first step is for CMS to acknowledge that the problems exist.
Our full Statement contains an Appendix that lists some of the stakeholder statements and media reports about Plan Finder issues.