Washington, DC ─ Justice in Aging, Medicare Rights Center, Center for Medicare Advocacy and the National Council on Aging sent a joint letter to Seema Verma, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), on August 27, 2019, urging the agency to address concerns regarding changes to the Medicare Plan Finder (MPF) tool and the 2020 Medicare Communications and Marketing Guidance (MCMG).
The four organizations expressed appreciation for CMS’s efforts to update these resources to better support beneficiary decision-making, while raising concerns that the revisions may instead have the opposite effect. The groups urged CMS to mitigate adverse consequences by closely monitoring the roll out and functionality of the new MPF tool, providing enrollment relief as needed, and by rescinding the updated MCMG in its entirety.
Earlier today, CMS unveiled long-awaited updates to MPF—the federal government’s primary enrollment assistance tool for Medicare Advantage and Part D plans. While the new site includes a number of improvements, the groups are concerned that its late-August launch date may not give third-party assisters, like State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIPs), adequate time to learn the new tool before Fall Open Enrollment begins. And that coupled with recent legislative and regulatory changes set to take effect this year, the truncated MPF launch timeline may generate demand for enrollment assistance that these chronically underfunded programs are unable to meet. Further, CMS has stated that there will be no back-up system in place or ability to revert to the current “legacy” system during the upcoming Fall Open Enrollment period.
The Medicare Communications and Marketing Guidelines (MCMG) is a set of rules that govern the selling and promotion of Medicare Advantage and Medicare Prescription Drug plans. Revised each year, these guidelines help ensure that people with Medicare have accurate information about a plan’s costs and benefits as well as adequate protections against inappropriate marketing practices. The 2020 revisions, however, effectively disregarded the regular process for stakeholder input and introduce changes that primarily ease the burden on plans and downstream entities while at best doing little to benefit or protect consumers and at worst increasing the likelihood consumers will experience harm.
Apparently in direct conflict with current law, the revised MCMG weaken the distinction between “marketing” events, which are designed to steer or attempt to steer beneficiaries toward a plan or limited set of plans; and “educational” events, which are designed to inform beneficiaries about Medicare Advantage, Prescription Drug, or other Medicare programs. In addition, the revisions removed several disclaimers required of plans, including a short one alerting Spanish speakers of the availability of translations of certain important plan communications. The burden on plans of including the two-line notice was miniscule, but the need to alert limited-English proficient beneficiaries that they can receive help is great. Further, the revision failed to include provisions outlined in the draft version that would have limited the aggressive marketing of plans referred to as D-SNP look-alikes. These Medicare Advantage plans, which are not subject to the oversight that CMS and states impose on plans designed to serve the complex needs of dual eligibles (people with both Medicare and Medicaid), are being marketed almost exclusively to this population. CMS has itself identified this marketing as a significant problem but abandoned its proposal to address its concerns in the guidelines.
Kevin Prindiville, Executive Director of Justice in Aging stated: “CMS’s harmful updates to the Marketing Guidelines are a step backward, leaving consumers more vulnerable to aggressive marketing tactics and making it more difficult for them to request important health information in their language. The hasty roll out of plan finder changes will only add to the challenges of this year’s Open Enrollment season.
Judith Stein, Executive Director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy, noted, “The revisions to the Marketing Guidelines cater to Medicare private plans and those who sell them, rather than being in the best interest of Medicare beneficiaries, those who assist them, or in furtherance of an equitable Medicare program. CMS should rescind these changes, and should ensure that beneficiaries are not hindered by a delayed roll out of a completely new Plan Finder format, with no back-up system in place.”
Frederic Riccardi, President of the Medicare Rights Center, stated: “Based on our experience assisting people with Medicare and their families, we know how challenging it can be for beneficiaries to make the best coverage decision for their unique circumstances. CMS must ensure that its tools and resources are developed, distributed and updated in ways that maximally support this decision-making process.”
Read the letter here.