The choices people have to make when signing up for Medicare can be baffling. So in order to help make the decision more clear, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS as it is commonly known, runs a feature on their website called Medicare Plan Finder (you’ll find a link here), designed to help shoppers sift through the noise and compare plans and costs side by side.
That’s a worthwhile goal – but it turns out, according to a new study from the National Council on Aging (NCOA) and a group called the Clear Choices Campaign, that the federal effort to provide clarity amid the confusion is failing. That’s the conclusion from this article that was just published on the website called NextAvenue. “Navigating your way through Medicare is no small feat,” the article reports. And while the federal government’s goal with Plan Finder is to make insurance shopping easier, “that goal largely does not jibe with reality.”
Poorly Presented, Tough to Navigate
According to the NCOA report, “The site is overwhelming, information is poorly presented, and the user design is potentially misleading — all of which confuses beneficiaries and can contribute to many making poor plan selections.” The report blasts the CMS website in two specific areas: first, it’s difficult if not impossible to get a clear comparison of out-of-pocket costs, which is critical in comparing plans; and, second, the site fails to offer easy-to-navigate provider directories, which is a key factor in plan selection for many seniors. Finding out whether or not your doctor or clinic accepts the plan you prefer is must-have information.
In the assessment of the NCOA study, there are a few things that Plan Finder does well. It does allow anonymous browsing, letting users compare plans before being required to set up a personal account. Also, the site allows Spanish-speaking users to seamlessly select Spanish language translation, which for now is the only alternative language available. But in a wide range of other areas the report includes a long list of major shortcomings. Here are a few:
- Out-of-pocket cost information – essential for accurate plan comparison – is difficult to understand on the CMS site
- The directories of providers and pharmacies are hard to navigate
- Consumers trying to compare plans can’t include Medigap policies (the private plans that consumers can buy to supplement Medicare)
- NCOA found the layout and display of the website to be confusing and inconsistent
- The customization feature that allows cross comparison of plans doesn’t work very well and the information is often inaccurate.
No One to Talk To
As if all that weren’t enough, complains the NCOA study, the CMS Plan Finder website doesn’t allow shoppers to get human help when needed: there’s no “live body” or chat feature available to answer the inevitable questions that are bound to arise. The report said that “a retooling of the comparison features and enrollment functions is ‘essential’” in order for the site to work as advertised.
The report took pains to point out that the problem with CMS’s Plan Finder is not caused by the inability of older consumers to navigate online. The National Council on Aging study reported that older adults today shop online almost 2 ½ hours each week without mishap or confusion. Clearly the problem is with the CMS website, not with the users, says the NextAvenue article, adding the recommendation that Medicare officials “should consider partnering with the private sector to improve the [CMS] tool’s efficiency and effectiveness.”
According to NextAvenue, the study of Medicare’s online shopping experience included a whole host of specific recommendations, starting (as mentioned above) with the cost comparison feature, which, says NCOA, needs to be more precise and prominent. NCOA recommends that the site be re-tooled so that out-of-pocket cost estimates reflect the user’s personal data. Consumers should find it easier to compare a wide range of plans, including both Medigap and Medicare Advantage choices. Also, once a shopper enters his or her prescriptions, says the report, the site should save that information instead of requiring the user to reenter the same drugs repeatedly.
Get Rid of Jargon
The site could also be much more usable and intuitive with a comprehensive redesign. Right now, says the NCOA report, the CMS site has far too much “insurance jargon,” much of which could be replaced with better graphics and plainer language. Finally (in addition to more suggestions we aren’t including here) the CMS site should absolutely include a feature that is virtually ubiquitous in the online shopping world these days: a web chat option for live, human help and support. “At a bare minimum,” says NextAvenue quoting the NCOA study, “beneficiaries require and deserve clearer and more transparent information. Providing it will make markets work better, resulting in lower consumer and taxpayer costs.”
The old adage says “Knowledge is power.” When it comes to retirement planning, as with choosing your health insurance, we all need clearer and more transparent information, and that’s where AgingOptions enters the picture. Our goal is to serve as your guide to a secure and fulfilling retirement by helping you navigate through the often-confusing maze of choices that await today’s retirees. What’s the best way to plan my finances? What housing choices will I be making over the coming decade or two, or three? Are there legal precautions I should be taking today to protect my interests? What are my best health care choices to allow me to avoid becoming a burden to those I love? And speaking of my family, how can I ensure that they will honor my wishes and support my choices?
At AgingOptions, our unique approach to retirement planning answers all these questions and more. It is possible to have a retirement plan that interconnects financial, housing, legal, medical and family aspects of your life as you age. It’s called a LifePlan, and only AgingOptions offers it. Why not take just a few hours – without obligation – and learn more? Come join Rajiv Nagaich of AgingOptions at a free LifePlanning Seminar. Chances are there’s one coming up that’s close to where you live. For details and online registration, visit our Live Events page, or contact us by phone. It will be a pleasure to help turn confusion into clarity – and to help make your retirement dreams come true.
(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)