In an attempt to improve price transparency, CMS announced a new app that gives original Medicare beneficiaries the chance to see what their plan covers and read the most popular content on Medicare.gov.
Beyond seeing whether Medicare covers a medical item or service, beneficiaries can use the app to get up-to-date information about doctors and hospitals. The app's Blue Button 2.0 functionality also lets people connect claims data to tools "to help them understand, use and share their health data," according to CMS.
The agency said about two-thirds of Medicare beneficiaries use the Internet daily or almost daily. That fact combined with the Medicare population growing nearly 50% by 2030 has CMS looking for ways to connect with members beyond a phone center.
CMS views this as a way to improve transparency and empower patients. The app, which is available for free from the App Store and Google Play, is part of the eMedicare initiative the agency launched last year.
Other eMedicare features included tools to let people see out-of-pocket costs depending on their coverage choices and allow beneficiaries to compare the national average costs of certain procedures depending on settings. The Medicare Plan Finder also includes a web chat option.
CMS Administrator Seema Verma said the eMedicare initiative focuses on modernizing the program and helping patients find the best value. "This new app is the next in a suite of products designed to give consumers more access and control over their Medicare information," she said.
CMS said its website has about 15 million annual page views for coverage-related content. Its 1-800-MEDICARE line also gets more than 3 million coverage-related calls annually. The new app is a way to let people get answers through the app rather than through a person in a phone center.
CMS announced the availability with enthusiasm, but there's always the fear that people won't use the technology.
Millennials are willing to use online services for healthcare. They're also more interested in telemedicine and walk-in clinics. However, baby boomers didn't grow up with the phones in their pockets, so they might not use it for their care as much as a 20- or 30-something.
For years, studies trumpeted the possibility that younger seniors could be interested in healthcare tools like the one CMS launched. An Accenture survey found that American seniors are using wearables and other technology nearly as much as older age groups.
Based on those figures, an app for Medicare patients may work. However, research also shows that patients overall don't often use digital tools to improve their healthcare consumerism even though they say they want providers with a strong online presence.
Hospitals are also interested in online solutions to connect to their patients, but consumer engagement tools like apps are limited. A Kaufman Hall survey found that only 14% of hospitals surveyed said they have digital tools to increase interaction with patients.