The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says it will be giving more attention to customer service and claim payment speed at the private insurers that are helping to run the new Medicare Part D prescription drug program.
Many governors, representatives and senators have been complaining about enrollment delays, payment delays, difficulties reaching customer service centers and other startup problems at the new program, especially for low-income Medicare beneficiaries who also qualify for Medicaid. Those “dual eligibles” were automatically enrolled in the Part D program.
Other Medicare beneficiaries are supposed to sign up for Part D coverage by May 15 or may have to wait to join the program.
Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said Thursday at a hearing organized by the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging that the Medicare drug program is having problems mainly because of the many compromises needed to get the program proposal through Congress.
Congress took 20 years to pass a Medicare drug plan bill, and lawmakers should avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater because of concerns about startup problems, Santorum said.
Mark Ganz, president of the Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield, Portland, Ore., reported that the Medicare drug plan will help his own mother cut her drug expenditures to about $3,000 this year, from $8,000 in 2005.
Regence has taken aggressive steps to address problems with automated enrollment of dual eligibles as well as unexpectedly heavy demands on customer service centers, Ganz said.
“One lesson we’ve learned at Regence is that we cannot over-communicate in a program of this scope and complexity,” Ganz said. “With this population, there is no substitute for one-on-one – preferably face-to-face – communication.”
But Ganz said he believes working out the drug plan implementation problems will help millions of Medicare beneficiaries get better, more affordable drug coverage.
But many senators on the committee, especially Democrats, said Medicare plan officials have to take the startup problems seriously.
“It’s bedlam out there,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
“The program as implemented today is just too confusing,” said Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del. Carper noted that he voted for the program but has been disappointed by the implementation.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., spoke of seeing tears streaming down the faces of senior citizens who came to town hall meetings to talk about problems with Medicare drug benefits.