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Inspector General: CMS Needs to Ensure Accuracy of HHS Plan-Finder

By Jane Norman, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

April 2, 2013 -- Officials need to do more to make sure insurance companies are supplying complete and accurate information to a government website that helps consumers locate health insurance policies, the Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General said in a recent report.

The issue is of particular interest because the HHS "plan-finder," which was mandated under the health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152), is a precursor to the interactive health insurance exchanges that are supposed to be up and running by later this year. The finder, which includes data on individual and small group policies, is the first-ever attempt by the government to help Americans find insurance and compare options. It's supposed to display information in a consumer-friendly way, and also provide information on public programs like Medicaid. However, consumers can't actually purchase insurance through it, unlike the exchanges.

Launched in July 2010 at, the finder had 2 million visitors between then and July 2011, the report said. As of March, it included data from about 8,000 private health insurance products.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) contracts with a private firm for data collection, storage and maintenance, and the estimated cost of management and operation of the finder in fiscal 2012 was $17.2 million, the report said.

The OIG said in the report that most private insurers reported data as required for use on the site. But CMS officials failed to follow up with those that didn't submit detailed pricing and benefit information, said the inspector general. About 13 percent didn't submit required reports in November 2011 and January 2012, said the report.

In addition, CMS has not required insurers to certify as to the completeness of the data they submitted, the report said. CMS officials also have been unable to identify all the insurers who are required under the 2010 law to submit basic company and product information, said the report.

Also, "the products and plans displayed were not always available for sale or were not always recognized by insurers' representatives," the report said. And there were some inconsistencies that might make the data confusing to consumers, it said.

CMS officials generally agreed with the inspector general's findings, the report said, and they have begun to make changes to address them. But in a letter included with the report, acting CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner also said that the report may "overstate" problems with the finder and that officials reach out to insurers when errors are reported. Regulations currently under review for 2014 should help make the finder operate more efficiently, she said.

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