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Disenrolling From Medicare Advantage Plans Difficult For Many Seniors

Armen Hareyan's picture

AP/Lexington Herald-Leaderon Monday examined problems experienced by Medicare beneficiaries whotry 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.

RobertHayes, president of the center, said it can be difficult to withdrawfrom MA plans because the federal government did not establish aneffective and seamless process to do so. He said, "Each office plays bydifferent rules in helping people. Literally, different people in thesame office play by different rules."

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

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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 experiencelong wait times and a "dizzying array" of responses about withdrawingfrom MA plans. Smith said his staff called the hot line several timeson June 17 and found that the average wait time was 12 minutes, withothers never connecting to an operator.

Nelligan said theaverage wait time for all calls made to the hot line on that same datewas 32 seconds and calls that did not go through might have been causedby local telephone network problems. Smith said his committee isinvestigating 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 ofdollars it has convinced Congress to pump into industry coffers at theexpense of seniors," former Rep. Barbara Kennelly (D-Conn.), nowpresident and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, writes in a Hartford Courantopinion piece. According to Kennelly, if Medicare continues to providesubsidies for private plans, "the program will face even more pressureto cut benefits and increase out-of-pocket costs for beneficiaries."

Itis "time to stop disadvantaging Medicare," Kennelly writes. She urgesCongress to stop providing "these costly subsidies to insurancecompanies and put that money to work for all of the 43 millionAmericans enrolled in Medicare, not just the few enrolled in privateplans" (Kennelly, Hartford Courant, 7/10).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. Youcan view the entire Kaiser DailyHealth Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email deliveryat kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, afree service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.