The Senior Citizens League Weekly Update for Week Ending November 29, 2019
An urgent story came out on Monday of this week which reported that there is a major problem with the on-line Medicare Cost Finder that millions of seniors on Medicare use to make their choice of which Medicare supplement to use. According to the on-line news source Pro-Publica, the Medicare Cost Finder was redesigned for seniors to compare complex health insurance options. “But consumer advocates have identified instances when the tool has malfunctioned and given inaccurate plan and price data.”
The report gives as an example a Medicare consultant in Wisconsin who said she used the tool to research three prescription drug plans for a client. The comparison page, which summarizes total costs, showed all but one of her client’s medications would be covered. However, when she clicked on “plan details” to find out which medicine was left out, the plan finder then said all of them were covered.
So she started checking the plans’ websites, and it turns out there are two versions of the same high blood pressure medication. One is covered. The other is not. The difference in price: $2,700 a month.
In another instance, EnvisionRxPlus, a prescription drug plan, sent an email to independent insurance brokers nationwide recommending they not use the Medicare Plan Finder because of incorrect estimates on drug prices and patient deductibles.
Because of these errors TSCL, other senior advocates and Medicare advisers are concerned that the problems caused by the tools’ inaccuracies will not show up until the 2020 coverage year begins and as seniors head to pharmacies to fill prescriptions or show up for medical appointments.
As of Wednesday of this week there is no advisory on the government's official Medicare website that there may be significant problems with the cost finder. The end of the Medicare enrollment period is December 7 and unfortunately there seems to be no way to deal with this problem. States do offer help through the federally supported Senior Health Insurance Program (SHIP), which offers free, one-on-one, counseling to those eligible for Medicare, their families and caregivers. We suggest that you contact someone from that program in your state and ask for help in enrolling for next year.
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Congress was not in session this week because of the Thanksgiving holiday. As we reported last week, one of the last things they were able to do before they left town was pass a CR – a continuing resolution that will keep the government open through December 20. That is supposed to give them enough time to reach agreement on funding the federal government through the rest of the 2020 fiscal year.
However, reports are now circulating that there is a real possibility they won't be able to do that and as December 20 approaches they will again be faced with the dilemma of passing another short-term extension or shutting down the government. They have been able to reach an agreement as to how much money to spend overall, but since each department of the federal government has its own budget that must be agreed to individually and then passed into law the disagreements continue on how to divide that overall amount up among the departments.
When Congress passes a CR, it means they continue to fund the government at the previous fiscal year levels – in this case the fy2019 levels, with a few exceptions. In reality, however, it means they are cutting federal spending because of inflation, which reduces the value of the money they are spending. So, if they can't reach agreement it is possible they could finally decide to fund the entire FY2020 year through a CR, which would mean they would be cutting federal spending. Among other things, it would mean there would be no new programs unless existing programs were cut in some way.
It is important to know that Social Security and Medicare will not be affected by whatever happens. Neither will widely used safety net programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), and a significant amount of federal spending on transportation, among other things.