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Highlights

The Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 (MMA) established a voluntary outpatient prescription drug benefit, known as Medicare Part D. Private sponsors have contracted with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to provide this benefit and are offering over 1,400 stand-alone prescription drug plans (PDP). Depending on where they live, beneficiaries typically have a choice of 40 to 50 PDPs, which vary in cost and coverage. MMA required each PDP sponsor to staff a toll-free call center, which serves as a key source of the information that beneficiaries need to make informed choices among PDPs. GAO examined (1) whether PDP sponsors provide prompt, courteous, and helpful service to Medicare beneficiaries and others and (2) the extent to which PDP sponsor call centers provide accurate and complete information to Medicare beneficiaries and other callers. To address these objectives, we made 900 calls to 10 of the largest PDP sponsor call centers during March 2006, posing one of five questions about their Part D plans during each call. We tracked the amount of time it took to reach a customer service representative (CSR), the number of calls that did not reach a CSR, and the appropriateness and clarity of CSRs' language. We developed criteria for determining accurate and complete responses based on CMS information.

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