- A new report from the National Council on Aging (NCOA) and the Clear Choices Campaign finds flaws in the Medicare Plan Finder (MPF) based on 25 interviews with Medicare beneficiaries and surveys of Medicare State Health Insurance Assistance Program directors.
- The co-authors offered 11 key recommendations and 25 detailed recommendations that would offer an "essential" retooling of MPF's plan comparison features and enrollment functions to enhance design and usability, among other "substantial improvements."
- NCOA and Clear Choices urged CMS to consider proactively collaborating with the private sector and stakeholder groups with "boots-on-the-ground beneficiary experience" to make improvements to MPF.
NCOA and Clear Choices' analysis found MPF to be "overwhelming" for users, with poorly-presented information and clunky user design hampering consumers' ability to make appropriate plan selections. As the country's aging population grows and payers continue to delve deeper into the Medicare Advantage market, improvements to MPF would be welcomed by consumers and drive "lower consumer and taxpayer costs," according to the report.
The 11 key recommendations made in the report are:
- Displaying costs with decision and prominence
- Basing estimated out-of-pocket costs on more detailed information
- Integrating a provider directory
- Utilizing saved information about consumers' drugs
- Allowing consumers to compare Medicare Advantage plans with an equivalent combination of fee-for-service, Medigap and standalone drug plans
- Redesigning the layout and display to enhance usability and promote intuitive navigation
- Replacing insurance jargon with graphics, charts and plain language
- Integrating a web chat feature
- Enabling the website to suggest plan options
- Contracting to ensure more stringent oversight of MPF’s accuracy
The co-authors plan on bringing their findings to policymakers and stakeholder groups through an education and awareness campaign with the goal of obtaining direction and funding from Congress to retool MPF or contract that undertaking out to the private sector.
Consumers, however, are not best at capitalizing on price comparison. While most respondents in a Health Affairs survey on price shopping said they believe shopping for care is important, only 13% said they researched out-of-pocket costs before getting care. Improvements to MPF may help some consumers compare prices, but as the authors of that report note, "patients' preferences to maintain provider relationships and efforts to coordinate care would limit overall rates in shopping."
Poor health literacy among consumers is another problem. According to a UnitedHealthcare survey published last year, only 9% of Americans have an understanding of four basic health insurance terms: health plan premium, health plan deductible, out-of-pocket maximum and co-insurance.