Medicare: Program Designed to Inform Beneficiaries and Promote Choice Faces Challenges

GAO-01-1071 Published: Sep 28, 2001. Publicly Released: Sep 28, 2001.
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The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 (BBA) established the Medicare+Choice (M+C) program to expand health plan choices. BBA permitted Medicare participation by preferred provider organizations, provider-sponsored organizations, and insurers offering private fee-for-service plans or medical savings accounts. It also encouraged the wider availability of health maintenance organizations, which have long been an option for many beneficiaries. To help beneficiaries understand and consider all of their Medicare options, the National Medicare Education Program offers a toll-free help line, informational mailings to beneficiaries, an Internet site, and educational and publicity campaigns. During fiscal years 1998 through 2000, the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) spent an average of $107.8 million on the program annually. Most of the money came from user fees collected from M+C plans. Reaction to the program has generally been positive among beneficiaries and beneficiary advocacy groups, but representatives of M+C plans offered a mixed assessment. Program activities have increased the information available to beneficiaries on Medicare, the M+C program, and specific health plans. However, the extent to which the program has motivated beneficiaries to actively weigh their health plan options is unknown.

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Matter for Congressional Consideration

Matter Status Comments
To better promote beneficiaries' active and informed selections among their Medicare coverage options, Congress should consider allowing the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services more flexibility in conducting National Medicare Education Program activities, especially with regard to the content, format, medium, and timing of information that the agency distributes to beneficiaries.
Closed - Not Implemented
Congress has not passed any legislation that responds to the recommendation.

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