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Introduction and Summary
In 2017, Medicare Rights staff and volunteers addressed more than 15,000 questions and issues through the organization’s national helpline. In addition, over 2.8 million questions were answered for people with Medicare, their caregivers, and professionals serving them through Medicare Interactive, Medicare Rights’ free and independent online reference tool thoughtfully designed to help older adults and people with disabilities navigate the complex world of health insurance. This report will feature select helpline trends and highlight the most commonly searched for Medicare Interactive answers, providing a glimpse into the information and coverage needs of Medicare beneficiaries and their families.
As in previous years, helpline callers and users of Medicare Interactive were geographically and socioeconomically diverse, and needed help with a wide array of complex Medicare-related issues. Medicare Rights served clients in all 50 states. Approximately 30% of helpline callers were living on incomes of less than $19,000 per year. This number includes people dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid, who represented 10% of all callers. Caregivers helping to resolve issues and asking questions for family members accounted for 20% of helpline callers. And around 25% of helpline callers were under 65 and eligible for Medicare due to disability. Medicare Rights has less robust demographic data on users of Medicare Interactive but knows that these users represent both beneficiaries and the professionals serving them, and the most popular sections in 2017 included one on Medicare-covered services and one that introduces Medicare eligibility and coverage topics.
Medicare Rights produces this report so that advocates, policymakers at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA), and other stakeholders can better understand the needs of beneficiaries and work toward greater accessibility and affordability in Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage. For instance, in order to streamline and increase consumer awareness around Part B enrollment, the Beneficiary Enrollment Notification and Eligibility Simplification (BENES) Act, supported by Medicare Rights and further discussed in this report, was introduced in Congress in 2017. In 2018, additionally, Medicare Rights led advocacy efforts with CMS to extend the Medicare Part B time-limited equitable relief opportunity for Medicare beneficiaries who are enrolled in Marketplace health insurance instead of Medicare. Medicare Rights applauds CMS for extending and providing this relief opportunity through 2019 and beyond for those eligible in 2019 or prior years.
Around two-thirds of Americans receive their Medicare benefits through Original Medicare, and it is critical to protect Original Medicare as an important coverage option, even while Medicare Advantage may be the right choice for some beneficiaries. Medicare Rights expressed its concerns with CMS education and outreach materials prepared for the 2018 Medicare Annual Coordinated Election Period, which many perceived promoted Medicare Advantage over Original Medicare. CMS listened to Medicare Rights’ and other advocates’ concerns, and the final version of the 2019 “Medicare & You” handbook—the primary educational resource for those new to Medicare—was more balanced and accurate. Medicare Rights hopes that additional recommendations made in this report to increase Medicare’s responsiveness to beneficiary needs will be similarly heeded and acted on.
Any changes to the Medicare program must aim for healthier people, better care, and smarter spending—not paying more for less. As policymakers debate the future of health care, we will provide our insights here.
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