Unveiled Monday by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma, the two features are part of the agency’s new eMedicare initiative, which Verma describes as a multiyear effort to modernize the way beneficiaries get information and make it easier for them to enroll.
Starting with this year’s open enrollment, beneficiaries may go to medicare.gov and answer five questions designed to help them decide whether they want to enroll in Original Medicare or Medicare Advantage (MA), a private insurance alternative. Based on the answers, Medicare will recommend either Original Medicare or MA.
“We are not steering any Medicare beneficiary anywhere,” Verma says. These features, she adds, are designed to give enrollees more information.
The new out-of-pocket cost calculator will compare the fees of Original Medicare and MA options based on a beneficiary’s zip code and health status. The cost calculator is available on a number of platforms, including mobile phones and tablets.
“Seniors can see how much they’ll have to pay, based on their needs and their choices,” Verma says. “These tools will help them understand their costs better and give them support while they make their very important decision.”
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Medicare’s Plan Finder will feature two upgrades: an easier way to enroll and the live chat option. Beneficiaries will be able to log into the Plan Finder by using their mymedicare.gov username and password. That feature is expected to be available starting this weekend.
Beginning on Oct. 15, mymedicare.gov enrollees will also be able to chat live with a Medicare representative who can answer questions while they are on the Medicare website. The live chat will be available seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Enrollees also can continue to use the 800-Medicare hotline to get questions answered.
CMS has already said that the average premiums for MA and Part D prescription drug plans are expected to drop slightly for 2019. It expects to announce the deductibles and premiums for Part A, which covers hospital stays and some nursing home and rehabilitation services, and Part B, which pays for doctor visits, diagnostic services and other outpatient care, later this month.
In future years, the eMedicare initiative will streamline the way consumers can get quality information for the medical services they need, will make the Plan Finder more mobile-friendly and will make Medicare cost information more transparent, including the ability to compare what a service will cost in a hospital versus an outpatient setting.