1-800-WRONG ANSWER

December 15, 2004

The Medicare hotline, a toll-free telephone number that provides information about eligibility, billing and the new prescription drug benefit, is not much help based on a report by the Government Accountability Office, says the New York Times.

According to GAO investigators monitoring 300 test calls:

  • Twenty-nine percent of the calls were answered accurately, but 10 percent of callers received no answer at all.
  • Only 4 percent of the calls pertaining to billing or "policy-oriented" questions were answered accurately; 54 percent of the answers were completely wrong, while another 42 percent were partially wrong.
  • The GAO estimates that while most of the 21 million calls received by the Medicare hotline in 2003 were "status-oriented" calls (requiring simple answers on eligibility or coverage), about 500,000 of them were the more difficult "policy-oriented" calls.

GAO officials attribute the accuracy problems to fragmented and confusing information from multiple electronic sources, inadequate training of customer service representatives, and high turnover rates. Indeed, the turnover rate among carrier call centers ran as high as 23 percent between 1999 and 2001.

Source: Robert Pear, "Test Finds Inaccuracies in Help Line for Medicare," New York Times, December 12, 2004; and "Calls Centers Need to Improve Reponses to Policy-Oriented Questions," GAO-04-669, Government Accountability Office, July 2004.

For NYT text (registration required):

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/12/politics/12medicare.html

For GAO report:

http://www.gao.gov/atext/d04669.txt

 

Browse more articles on Health Issues