Senator probes HHS help line

Senate Aging Committee ranking member Gordon Smith, R-Ore., is on a campaign to improve telephone customer service at HHS. In preparation for an appearance by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Acting Administrator Kerry Weems before the committee, Smith conducted his own investigation of the service provided by 1-800-MEDICARE, CMS's help line. Weems' testimony Thursday involved CMS's activities monitoring nursing home quality.

When it was his turn to question Weems, Smith said his staff made 15 test calls to 1-800-MEDICARE last week, asking basic questions including "What is the difference between Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage?" and "What are the enrollment periods for these plans?"

"The answers were all over the board and they were often inaccurate," Smith said. Weems replied, "That's unacceptable," and promised to look into the matter.

A Smith aide said the swiftest connection to a customer service representative was 14 minutes, and one staffer was on hold for half an hour. One staffer posing as a senior was told, wrongly, that people enrolled in Medicare's Part D prescription drug program can switch plans midyear if they do not like their choice at open enrollment.

Another customer service representative asked only for the caller's ZIP code before naming one prescription drug plan as "best" for the region, Smith's aide said. Standard protocol for recommending specific drug plans would involve, at minimum, learning the types of medicines a caller is taking. Smith's staff investigation coincided with the open enrollment period for Medicare's prescription drug program, which began Thursday.

In 2004, GAO said CMS's primary contractor training customer-service representatives was following the necessary standards for training them, but the training might not be giving all representatives the knowledge and skills to answer questions accurately.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

    Download
  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

    Download
  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

    Download
  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

    Download
  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.