Medicare Rx Help Line Is Less Than Helpful, GAO Says

Ken Rankin
Published Online: Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Seniors seeking information about the Medicare drug discount card program by calling the government's special new toll-free "help line" are likely to get incorrect answers about one third of the time, according to the results of an investigation by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The GAO found that the "1-800- MEDICARE" help line provided accurate answers to only 61% of the 420 calls made as part of the investigation and gave incorrect information to 29% of the callers. The remaining calls were not answered at all, or the callers were disconnected.

The most troubling findings surfaced in response to GAO questions about the $600 annual subsidy that goes with the new Medicare drug discount card for low-income individuals. Customer service representatives—typically outside contractors working from "scripts" containing prewritten answers—gave out incorrect information to 55 of the 70 inquiries made as part of the investigation.

The GAO criticized Medicare officials for failing to regularly test the scripts used by help-line personnel, and for providing inadequate training for newly hired customer service representatives.

Mr. Rankin is a freelance medical writer.

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