Insurers' call centers flunk test
A Times Editorial
Published July 12, 2006
Before Medicare recipients can choose the best drug coverage to fit their situation, they need the best information available. As it stands, however, many of the 43-million Americans eligible for Medicare's new drug benefit aren't getting the answers they need, adding to their frustration in trying to decide on an insurance plan.
A recent investigation by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found that private insurers' customer call centers generally provided incorrect and incomplete responses to questions from Medicare recipients who asked about the new benefit.
The report, released last month, found that only 34 percent of the 900 calls made by investigators resulted in accurate and complete responses to their questions. The group called 10 top Medicare drug sponsors and asked for information about nonformulary drugs, the low-income subsidy and the least expensive drug plans. Most of the responses, almost 70 percent, turned out to be inaccurate or incomplete, and 15 percent of the questions went unanswered. Only one call center earned an overall rate for accuracy and completeness greater than 50 percent.
The Bush administration and insurers took issue with the results, saying they were skewed because Medicare does not require insurers to provide detailed information about the prices of specific drug combinations. But they agreed that Medicare beneficiaries are entitled to the information they need to make an informed choice. People who depend on Medicare to help pay their prescription drug costs deserve no less.
By most accounts, insurers are making a nice profit on their Medicare drug plans. They should invest some of those profits in upgrading their customer service. And if they refuse, Congress should insist on it.
[Last modified July 12, 2006, 05:56:23]
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