The Medicare Plan Finder: CMS Heard But Didn’t Listen
On October 1, 2019, the “new” Medicare Plan Finder became the exclusive source of information about Part D and Medicare Advantage plans. Since its introduction, there have been many complaints and comments about the system. A common theme: The new Plan Finder eliminated many of the features that helped beneficiaries find the best plan. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) made a few tweaks here and there but, in the opinion of those who use the Plan Finder regularly, did not fix the problems. At one point, a press release noted that CMS “has been distressed to see media coverage talking about ‘glitches’ or ‘malfunctions’ in the Plan Finder.”
Turn the page to 2020. With no significant changes, those who perform plan reviews are learning to live with the Plan Finder. When there were questions about the pricing of medications or which physicians are in a network, we went to the insurer’s website. And, it’s likely anyone who provides reports to clients has reviewed their disclaimers.
Then, surprise! On May 7, those turning on the Plan Finder found a big surprise—a brand new look, along with some changes.
The most obvious changes are cosmetic. They have thinned down the font, eliminated most bold text, and downsized headlines. The results page has a airier, spaced out appearance. A programmer friend said it appears CMS redesigned this for phone or tablet viewing. (I would never attempt this on a phone.)
Besides cosmetic changes, there are a few changes in tier costs for medications.
- The default listing changed from “standard retail pharmacy cost for 1-month” to “preferred mail order drug cost for 3-month.” Who knows why CMS made this change? It was not on my list of things that needed attention.
- For some unknown reason, the drug payment stages for the tier cost of medications have been reversed, starting with Catastrophic coverage phase on the left and Initial coverage phase on the right. (Click here to see the old and new.) Understanding the drug plan payment stages is tough enough without mixing up the order.
On the positive side, two revisions downplay the emphasis on premiums.
- The premium cost no longer jumps off the page. It is now the same size font as the rest of the plan information.
- The default search changed from “lowest premiums” to “lowest drug+premium cost.” With that change, zero-premium plans are no longer the first ones that automatically appear. Medicare Advantage plans without drug coverage show up at the end of the list, minimizing the chance that someone who takes medications would accidentally enroll in one.
Finally, related to the change in the search default, there’s a popup, “We heard your feedback.” To that, we can say, “Thanks but there are still many concerns needing attention that would make a huge difference in finding the best plan.” What’s unfortunate is these features were part of the Legacy Plan Finder. There has been no explanation as to why they were dropped from the new version.
Here’s a short list of priority changes.
- Give reviewers and beneficiaries the ability to save information without having to establish or log in to a mymedicare.gov account. Those not yet enrolled still have to reenter information every time they use the Plan Finder.
- Fix the PDFs. When conducting a review, especially if unable to save information, it’s beneficial to have a document, either a printed copy or PDF, to review. From the beginning, the new Plan Finder PDFs have had issues—overlapping text, information cut off—but it appears this update made those issues even worse. (Click here to see a sample.) I have tried printing and generating PDFs from three different browsers and two different computers and nothing works.
- Provide a list of preferred pharmacies. Pharmacies that offer preferred retail cost-sharing can save money. In many cases, they are not the closest pharmacy. The Legacy Plan Finder provided that information with one click. Now, to find one, it’s edit the pharmacy list, pick three different plans to compare, and check the comparison page.
- Do not hide coverage rules for Medicare Advantage plans, including PPOs, behind multiple links. Beneficiaries need to know the rules of the game in order to make a smart choice.
- Add a frequency for medications of once every six or 12 months. There are several medications that require refills every 12 months. Getting, at minimum, four refills instead of one produces very inaccurate cost projections, especially for pricey medications like Epi-pens and osteoporosis drugs.
- Identify drugs not covered by a plan on the search results or comparison. Those drugs are still identified at the bottom of the details page.
“’Hearing’ is the physical activity of sound falling on the ears…. ‘Listening’ is the ability to pay attention to what the sounds means and understand it.”
CMS heard our feedback but it’s evident they have not listened. There are still many tools and processes they need to restore to make the new Plan Finder as valuable as its predecessor. It’s time for CMS to really listen.