CMS Adds Resources to Respond to Record Numbers of Callers and New Steps Make It Easier for Seniors Interested in Medicare Discount Drug Card
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recently announced additional steps to improve service for Medicare beneficiaries deciding whether a discount card is right for them. This includes adding 400 more customer service representatives to answer calls on the 1-800-MEDICARE hotline and enhancing the "Price Compare" database at http://www.medicare.gov/.
In past weeks CMS received more than 10 times the regular call volume, with 1.6 million calls to 1-800-MEDICARE and more than 7 million internet visits. CMS is now increasing the number of customer service representatives at the Medicare call centers, bringing the total to more than 1,800. CMS had previously tripled the number of operators from nearly 400 in August to 1,400 last month. CMS is getting the additional help from trained customer service operators from some Medicare contractors; the private companies that process and pay Medicare Part B claims.
Enhancements are also being implemented in Medicare's Price Compare services based on feedback from beneficiaries, customer service operators, and advocates. For example, http://www.medicare.gov/ now has a new, easily visible link making the Price Compare database easier to find, and the "drug dictionary" of drugs included on Price Compare is being expanded.
Web site users and callers to 1-800-MEDICARE can now get an easy-to-use list of information to have available to help them find the best cards for their needs as quickly as possible. The list includes pill bottles or a list of drugs and dosages, favorite pharmacies, whether the beneficiary has a preference for low- or no-fee cards, and income information, if the beneficiary is interested in the $600 credit and other low-income assistance programs.
When calling Medicare, beneficiaries should be prepared to answer a few important questions about their prescription drug needs. CMS call centers use this information to sort through all of the medicines, drug discount cards, and pharmacies to give beneficiaries the specific, individual facts they need to decide about the drug card program. This includes:
- Their zip code.
- Their medicines and doses. It's best to have pill bottles in front of them.
- Preference for a pharmacy, if they have one (otherwise they will get information on the closest pharmacies as well as mail-order options)
- Whether they are especially interested in low-cost or no-cost cards (the
maximum card fee is $30 per year, but many cards have lower or zero fees)
- Any specific Medicare-approved cards that they have heard about and would like to find out more about.
- Their total monthly income, if they have limited means and are interested in the $600 credit for drug costs and other programs to help them get much larger savings.
The best times to call 1-800-MEDICARE is later in the week – Thursday through Sunday and between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. Eastern time.