CMS tees up Medicare Plan Finder update amid usability concerns: GAO

Medicare written on paper with a stethoscope
A new Government Accountability Office report looks at the usability of the Medicare Plan Finder. (Getty/Designer491)

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is planning to launch updates to its Medicare Plan Finder (MPF) this month after a report from a government watchdog flagged significant usability concerns with the tool. 

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) analyzed (PDF) the experience of comparing plans on MPF and found that 58% of beneficiaries described the process as “difficult” while just 13% of beneficiaries said it was easy. 

In addition, while 3% said the process was “very easy,” 15% described it as “very difficult.” 

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“These selections can be difficult due to the Medicare program’s complexity and can have important implications for beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket costs and access to providers,” GAO said. 

RELATED: Survey—As Medicare population booms, MA plans eye growth opportunities 

Part of the problem, GAO found, is that the data available for comparison are incomplete. MPF cannot provide estimates for the cost of coverage in traditional Medicare with an additional Medigap plan, according to the report. 

This can limit a beneficiary’s ability to compare their options in traditional Medicare fully with Medicare Advantage (MA) plans, according to the report. 

The tool also lacks information on provider networks offered in MA plans, which can also confuse the selection process, GAO said, as it requires a beneficiary to visit individual plan websites to find that information. 

Searching plans on MPF is a four-step process, but it requires beneficiaries to navigate multiple pages and enter a slew of information, such as drugs they take and their current coverage levels, GAO said. 

Beneficiaries will be given information on all plans available in their zip code—an average of 24 plans—before they can narrow it down and compare more closely, which can also be confusing, GAO found. 

RELATED: 21% of MA enrollees offered supplemental benefits in 2019 

“The ability to filter and sort plan information does not appear until later in the plan search process, where users are refining plan results,” GAO wrote in the report. “This makes it hard for users to narrow options specific to their needs because they first must go through all the options presented.” 

GAO presented these usability concerns to CMS, and the agency said it’s aware of these problems. It’s set to launch an update to the tool in short order aimed at making MPF easier to navigate, the agency told GAO. 

CMS is planning to make it easier for beneficiaries to toggle between information on MA, Part D and other types of coverage. It’s also aiming to add more complete cost information for comparison. 

It is also considering ways to make the language used easier for beneficiaries to understand. 

“CMS officials also told us that they are currently examining how to integrate MA plan provider information, but this is not part of the redesigned MPF being released in August 2019,” GAO said. 

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