NOVEMBER 01, 2007

Callers to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services? (CMS) hot line continue to be frustrated by the service, according to a recent poll.

The Department of Health and Human Services? Office of Inspector General reported that only 71% of those who completed calls to Medicare?s toll-free number were satisfied, a drop of 13 percentage points from 2004 data. When Medicare added the prescription-drug benefit to its health plan in January 2006, caller volume jumped by 68% to 49 million calls in 2006, compared with 2004, according to the study findings.

The Office of Inspector General recommended analyzing the interactive voice response system to determine whether additional staff members are warranted. CMS said that it is working on improving its services and simplifying choices.

In other Medicare news, seniors enrolled in the Medicare drug program can expect to pay $40 (8.7%) more a month next year for all standalone drug plans, according to data released by CMS. Avalere Health, a private research firm that analyzed the Medicare data, came up with the cost.

The agency?s own press release calls for a $25-a-month average premium increase for basic Medicare plans, however. The difference between CMS? cost and Avalere?s cost is that Avalere?s cost includes plans that offer more benefits, compared with the standard plan. Data indicated that most seniors enroll in the enhanced plans.