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CMS Launches New Medicare Rx Plan Finder Features

NOVEMBER 7, 2005 -- Medicare beneficiaries trying to find their way through the new Medicare drug benefit may find the task a bit easier after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) unveiled new features Monday on an agency Web site.

The "Medicare Prescription Plan Drug Finder" now allows beneficiaries to compare drug plan features, such as a plan's annual cost, deductibles, premiums, and copayments, for a specific list of drugs. Such a direct, "apples-to-apples" comparison had not been available before Monday.

CMS Administrator Mark B. McClellan said the Medicare drug plan finder's new features would allow beneficiaries to have detailed, personalized information to help them determine what drug plan choices are available to them. "There are some very good deals here with substantial savings," he told reporters. The plan finder is located on, the government's official Web site for information on the Medicare drug benefit (PL 108-173), which begins next Jan. 1.
CMS has been under fire from some consumer and seniors groups who said that an earlier version of the Web tool did not help seniors find out what drugs were covered by a particular plan or how much seniors would be expected to pay. Last month, Medicare Rights Center President Robert M. Hayes called the tool "misleading at worst, useless at best."

But even with the new features, the consumer groups worry that seniors may become confused and frustrated by so many choices is likely to remain.

During a demonstration for reporters, CMS created a fictional beneficiary in traditional fee-for-service Medicare who has diabetes, was on three different medications, and had no other drug coverage. The beneficiary would have 55 plans available, a number many advocates for the elderly say will be daunting for Medicare beneficiaries to wade through, no matter how much counseling they receive.

McClellan praised the number of choices available to beneficiaries. "The advantage of having this range of choices is you can focus on the kind of coverage you want," he said, adding that the plan finder can narrow the number of choice available.

Information on the plan finder will be updated weekly, he said, and plans may lower prices they charge based on what their competitors do, McClellan said. While plans could also change the drugs they cover "we don't expect to see that very often," McClellan said.

Ron Pollack, executive director of the consumers group Families USA, said that even with the improvements, searching Medicare drug plan options remains "a very arduous, time-consuming, and confusing process," especially for seniors who are not familiar with computers.

"This is not a realistic way for them to have confidence that they are in a good position" to pick a plan, Pollack said.

See November 7 Corrected Article, which corrects who performed study measuring consumer reaction to large number of choices.

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