The AP/Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday examined problems experienced by Medicare beneficiaries who try to switch their private Medicare Advantage health insurance plans. "[H]undreds" of elderly residents have contacted the Medicare Rights Center because they cannot disenroll from a private MA plan purchased "as a result of misleading sales tactics," according to the AP/Herald-Leader.

Robert Hayes, president of the center, said it can be difficult to withdraw from MA plans because the federal government did not establish an effective and seamless process to do so. He said, "Each office plays by different rules in helping people. Literally, different people in the same office play by different rules."

Seniors are able to enroll in a different plan after the end of the open enrollment period if they were misled or given incorrect information, and they should call the Medicare hot line to determine eligibility, according to CMS spokesperson Jeff Nelligan.

However, Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), ranking member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, said that the hot line is not useful because callers often experience long wait times and a "dizzying array" of responses about withdrawing from MA plans. Smith said his staff called the hot line several times on June 17 and found that the average wait time was 12 minutes, with others never connecting to an operator.

Nelligan said the average wait time for all calls made to the hot line on that same date was 32 seconds and calls that did not go through might have been caused by local telephone network problems. Smith said his committee is investigating reports of lengthy backlogs in the disenrollment process (Freking, AP/Lexington Herald-Leader, 7/9).

Opinion Piece
The "lifeline" for MA plans "is the insurance lobby and the billions of dollars it has convinced Congress to pump into industry coffers at the expense of seniors," former Rep. Barbara Kennelly (D-Conn.), now president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, writes in a Hartford Courant opinion piece. According to Kennelly, if Medicare continues to provide subsidies for private plans, "the program will face even more pressure to cut benefits and increase out-of-pocket costs for beneficiaries."

It is "time to stop disadvantaging Medicare," Kennelly writes. She urges Congress to stop providing "these costly subsidies to insurance companies and put that money to work for all of the 43 million Americans enrolled in Medicare, not just the few enrolled in private plans" (Kennelly, Hartford Courant, 7/10).

"Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork/dailyreports/healthpolicy. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation . © 2005 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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