Smith Gives 1-800-Medicare a Congressional Check-Up
Senator Gordon Smith chaired a hearing today in the Senate Special Committee on Aging to shed light on ongoing problems with customer service and operations at 1-800-Medicare call centers. The hearing, titled "1-800-Medicare: It's Time For a Check-Up," is the result of an extensive 3 ½ year investigation led by Smith. 1-800-Medicare, operated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), is a customer service helpline intended to provide 24 hour assistance to Medicare beneficiaries with information on claims, billing and enrollment/disenrollment.
"Our nation's seniors depend on 1-800-Medicare to help them make crucial decisions about their healthcare," said Smith. "The current state of this program is unacceptable for older Americans. We owe it to our seniors to fix these problems and make it right."
In 2005, Smith launched his investigation amid concerns about 1-800-Medicare's ability to handle the influx of calls relating to the implementation of Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage. Smith revealed findings from that investigation today, detailing extremely long wait times, technical glitches that disconnected callers, training and oversight inadequacies, and poor customer service at 1-800-Medicare call centers. Smith's investigation also uncovered inaccurate and confusing information being relayed to 1-800-Medicare callers. For 90 percent of the test calls made by Smith's investigators over the past year, at least one piece of incorrect information was provided by customer service representatives or callers were not given a response to their question.
Since the onset of his investigation, Smith has met repeatedly with CMS to discuss his findings and push for fixing documented problems. This July, Smith sent a letter to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Michael Leavitt, asking him to intervene at 1-800-Medicare to secure immediate reductions in call wait times and improvements to the accuracy of responses.
At the hearing, Smith again called for CMS to undertake additional actions to strengthen 1-800-Medicare before the upcoming Medicare Advantage and Part D enrollment periods. CMS projects that 34.5 million seniors will call 1-800-Medicare next year.