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Senators urge Medicare to allow seniors a drug plan do-over

WASHINGTON, DC – Leading senators are urging Medicare to allow seniors concerned about their drug plan pick for next year to switch if they received inaccurate information due to changes the agency made this sign-up season.

The request from 14 Democrats and one Independent comes as open enrollment for prescription drug coverage ends at midnight Saturday.

Medicare hinted Friday in a statement that it will provide such second chances. But the agency said it will post details when sign-up season is over, because a policy announcement now might create confusion.

Medicare revamped its online plan finder this year and the senators said they've gotten numerous complaints from people in their states about inaccurate information on drug pricing and coverage. The Associated Press recently reported on a change to the website that can steer unwitting seniors to coverage that costs much more than they need to pay.

In their letter, senators said Medicare should grant people who have concerns a do-over. Technically, it's known as a “special enrollment period.”

“We urge (Medicare) to make it clear to every ... beneficiary that they qualify for a special enrollment period if they find they were misled," wrote Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and his colleagues. “Older adults, people with disabilities and their caregivers must be made aware that there is reprieve from errors caused by the faulty tool."

They asked Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to widely publicize the special enrollment period, make it available throughout next year, and place no paperwork hurdles in front of beneficiaries who want to switch to a plan that better suits them.

In its statement Friday, Medicare said it wants to ensure that seniors “are confident in their decisions and happy in the coverage they choose."

Medicare said it's always had the ability to grant do-overs, "but this year we’re doubling down on ensuring that choosing their Medicare coverage is a simple and painless experience for beneficiaries."

Medicare officials told AP that if seniors had problems with the plan finder and were unhappy with the outcome, they could call 1-800-MEDICARE and request to make a switch.

Agency officials said beneficiaries don't need to use any technical language, only explain what their issue is to the call center representative. No documentation or screen shots will be required.

Serving some 60 million Medicare recipients, the plan finder is the most commonly used tool on Medicare.gov and just got its first major update in a decade.

The issue AP reported on stems from a significant change to the plan finder for 2020.

The plan with the lowest premium now gets automatically placed on top, with the monthly premium displayed in large font. Medicare’s previous plan finder automatically sorted plans by total cost, not just premiums. That's important because premiums are only one piece of information.

When out-of-pocket expenses such as copays are factored in, the plan with the lowest total annual cost is often not the first one shown by the plan finder.