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Medicare Plan Finder Gets a Makeover

Officials say they've made it easier to compare plan benefits, costs

A man sitting in front of a laptop looking at the redesigned Medicare Plan Finder website

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

En español | With less than two months to go before open enrollment begins for Medicare's 60 million beneficiaries, federal officials on Tuesday unveiled the first overhaul of the program's plan-finder website in a decade.

"Our goal is to provide a seamless, transparent online experience,” Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma told reporters Monday. “The new updated plan finder will walk users through the enrollment process from start to finish.” The site is designed to help new enrollees sign up for benefits and provide comparative information for people who review their coverage each year during open enrollment, which this year begins Oct. 15 and lasts until Dec. 7.

Medicare beneficiaries and even the counselors around the country who help enrollees navigate Medicare's plans and choices have told government auditors that the current plan finder is difficult to understand and use. About 10,000 Americans become eligible for Medicare every day, and Verma said that last year 20 million people used the plan finder to compare the two main options Americans 65-plus and those with disabilities have to choose from when they join Medicare or revise their choices: Original Medicare or a Medicare Advantage (MA) private health plan.

The website redesign begins with a new home page. That leads you to the current plan finder with a link at the top to the new site, which has a cleaner, fresher look with larger type and more white space, and it also requires fewer clicks between pages to get the basic information consumers need to choose between Original Medicare and a MA plan.

The current and retooled Medicare plan-finder sites will continue to operate through the end of September so users can try out the new features while still having access to the site they are more familiar with. Consumers should know that they will still have to wait until open enrollment begins on Oct. 15 to make any changes to their coverage and those changes will take effect in January of 2020.

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The redesign also allows beneficiaries to compare up to three Part D prescription drug plans side by side, including what the premiums are and the differences in costs for each plan between buying a drug at the local pharmacy and through mail order. Another feature tells the user who puts a brand-name drug on his or her individual drug list if a generic version — generally lower in cost than the brand name — is available. A message will pop up on the plan finder offering the user a choice of selecting the generic version of the medication.

Earlier this year CMS announced an expansion of the supplemental benefits that MA plans could offer to beneficiaries, including transportation to some medical appointments, increased structural improvements to homes and meal delivery to some enrollees. The new plan finder will let users learn which plans will offer each of these supplemental benefits in 2020, when all the decisions made during this year's open enrollment will take effect.

A couple using a smartphone to look at the new Medicare Plan Finder website

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

The new plan finder will also be friendly for mobile phones and tablets. “Last year 25 percent of our traffic was from a mobile device,” Verma said, 40 percent higher than the year before. Verma said not only are more Medicare beneficiaries becoming tech savvy, but also noted that in many instances family members or caregivers help beneficiaries make their open-enrollment decisions.

Verma made it clear that Medicare enrollees will still receive a paper copy of the annual Medicare handbook and that the toll-free 800-Medicare hotline will continue operating seven days a week, 24 hours a day, to help individuals with their Medicare questions.

The plan finder will continue to be updated, Verma said. She acknowledged that some of the criticisms of the site have not been addressed, including requests from advocates that beneficiaries should be able to see on the site whether their doctor is in the network of the plan they are considering. Verma said they are looking at whether they can add that capability in the future. In addition, a Medicare plan-finder report from the Government Accountability Office last month criticized the site for not including cost and other information about the supplemental — or Medigap — plans that those who enroll in Original Medicare commonly buy. Verma said CMS doesn't always have price information on Medigap plans. The website does provide a Medigap plan finder but makes it clear that consumers will have to go to the insurer's website to enroll.

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