Computer Error Boosts Medicare Drug Costs

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Alarm bells sounded when Sen Richard Durbin (D, Ill) and the media pointed out discrepancies in annual cost estimates on Medicare's Web site. The errors were brought to the attention of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) when questions arose about why some plans' annual cost estimates have changed since the Web site was launched last month.

CMS spokesman Gary Karr said that the Web site is updated weekly with the latest information from the plans. The plans are permitted to adjust drug prices and the amounts Medicare members will pay for those drugs. He explained that CMS found that a computer data problem was falsely inflating drug prices for a plan offered by Unicare—Medicare Rx Rewards Premier. Unicare's plan was cited by Durbin in a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services. The senator questioned why the Unicare cost estimate had increased by >$1250 since mid-November.

At press time, CMS was working to correct the problem. Karr noted that CMS was aware of a similar problem with another plan but could not rule out possible problems with additional plans.