Researchers at the U.S. Government Accountability Office say Medicare prescription drug program printed documents and Web sites are probably too confusing for many consumers to understand.

When GAO researchers tested Medicare Part D program consumer materials on 11 Medicare beneficiaries and 5 of the beneficiaries’ advisors, the researchers found that the testees had trouble using the materials to complete 18 sample tasks.

None of the beneficiaries and only 2 advisors could compute projected out-of-pocket costs for a plan that provided standard Part D coverage, and all testees could complete only 1 of the 18 sample tasks, Leslie Aronovitz, a GAO director, writes in a letter to members of Congress summarizing testing results.

When the GAO researchers asked 7 testees to complete 34 tasks using the Medicare Part D Web site, the average testee got only halfway through each sample task before time expired, Aronovitz writes.

In addition, when GAO researchers placed 500 calls to the Part D telephone hotline established by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, customer service representatives answered 374 calls in less than 5 minutes but took longer than 15 minutes to answer 64 of the calls.

Dr. Mark McClellan, CMS administrator, responded with a letter attacking the GAO team’s findings.

McClellan cited a customer satisfaction survey that found that 85% of hotline callers were satisfied with the help they got in March, up from 79% in January.

In addition, the GAO team ignored CMS efforts to supplement written materials, the hotline and Web sites by arranging a network of community-based counselors.

“This significant emphasis on reaching people where they live, work, play and pray is a key component of our success in reaching millions of people with Medicare and those who work on their behalf,” McClellan writes.

A copy of the GAO report and McClellan’s response is on the Web at Document Link