NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 12, 2008

Medicare and Medicaid patients who have questions about their coverage are encouraged to call 1-800-Medicare for answers.  But don't get your hopes up, says the Wall Street Journal.  Lots of callers face long wait times, many are cut off while on hold, and others receive information that is either incomplete or wrong.

Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) has been overseeing an investigation of problems with the help line, and he held a hearing on Capitol Hill today to air the issue out.

  • In 50 test calls placed last month, wait times ranged from zero to 45 minutes, and six calls were disconnected while on hold.
  • Call centers have provided at least one piece of incorrect information or been unable to provide a response to at least one question in 90 percent of test calls placed in the past year.

The call centers are staffed by a company called Vangent. John "Mac" Curtis, the company's CEO, testified that surveys have found 85 percent of callers are satisfied with the program.  He added that most callers have only one issue to discuss, rather than the multiple issues Senate investigators pose during test calls, Dow Jones Newswires notes.

Source: Jacob Goldstein, "Unreliable Answers From Medicare Call Center, if You Can Get Through," Wall Street Journal, September 11, 2008.

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