Customer Satisfaction With Medicare Hot Line Declining

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Customer Satisfaction With Medicare

Customer satisfaction with the federal government's Medicare hotline has declined, according to a report released on Thursday by theHHS Office of Inspector General, the AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The study is based on a poll of 206 people who called the hotline during one week in late January.

Researchersfound a satisfaction rate of 71% -- a 13 percentage point drop comparedwith a similar study conducted in 2004. The study also found that 44%of callers said they had difficulty accessing information, which wasabout the same in 2004 (Freking, AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution,9/28). The share of callers hanging up before having their questionsanswered increased to 21%, compared to 12% in 2004, the study found (Reuters,9/27). In addition, two-thirds of the callers said they hung up becauseof long wait times, according to the study. Only five of the callerssurveyed received answers to their questions from the automated systemcallers reach before speaking to an operator, the study found (AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 9/28).

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The hot line received 49 million calls in 2006 -- a 68% increase from 2004. The inspector general's report recommended that CMS review the automated system and possibly simplify it, and assess whether more staff should be hired (Reuters,9/27). Tens of thousands of people call the hot line daily, with somedays having in excess of 100,000 calls. The hot line is run by privatecontractors hired by HHS, whose names were not disclosed in the report.A footnote in the study said since the survey was conducted, onecompany has been handling all of the hot line's calls.

CMS'official response, which was included in the report, stated that theagency would be conducting a study to determine why callers are notreceiving the proper information (AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution,9/28). The agency also said it would try to simplify the automatedsystem, but it "will continue to have some hold times due to budgetlimitations."

Response

Rep. Pete Stark(D-Calif.) in a letter to CMS acting Administrator Kerry Weems onFriday called attention to the HHS OIG report and offered Weems his"congratulations" for being named "the lucky guy who gets to clean upthe mess your predecessors left behind." Stark added, "Based on CMS'record, I can only assume the agency selected the private contractorwhose service left beneficiaries less satisfied and more frustrated" (CQ HealthBeat, 9/28).
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Reprinted with permission fromkaisernetwork.org.You can view the entire KaiserDaily Health Policy Report, search the archives, andsign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published forkaisernetwork.org,a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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