State insurance regulators and nonprofit health advocates have started to get large-scale, national media coverage for a problem that Medicare plan agents and brokers have been talking about for weeks: The government’s recently updated Medicare Plan Finder is not working very well.
The system is supposed to help consumers shop for Medicare plans based on factors such as quality, provider networks, covered drug lists and projected out-of-pocket costs as well as premium costs.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) had been using the same Medicare Plan Finder system since 2005. Many consumer groups and government watchdog agencies argued that the system was too hard for consumers to use.
CMS released an updated version for the Medicare Advantage plan and Medicare Part D prescription drug plan annual enrollment period for 2020 coverage, which started Oct. 15 and is set to end Dec. 7.
Agents, brokers, and advocates at State Health Insurance Assistance Programs all complained about the same thing: That the system no longer makes it easy to shop based on a consumer’s total projected out-of-pocket costs; that it makes determining how plans will cover specific drugs a consumer takes difficult; and that it provides information that’s wrong.
One problem for agents and brokers is that, for privacy reasons, agents and brokers are not supposed to have independent access to Medicare plan shoppers’ prescription lists. Producers have to persuade consumers to enter prescription lists and help with the searches, or they must enter drug lists manually, each time they perform a plan search.
Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar of the Associated Press published a widely used article on the Medicare Plan Finder problems Nov. 21.