This week, the National Council on Aging (NCOA) and the Council for Affordable Health Coverage’s Clear Choices Campaign released a long-anticipated report on the Medicare Plan Finder (MPF) tool. The Modernizing Medicare Plan Finder Report highlights some of the issues Medicare beneficiaries, their families, and their caregivers encounter while using the MPF tool as well as future considerations for the tool’s development and recommendations for improvement.
The MPF tool is the primary source of plan information for millions of people with Medicare each year. With the MPF, people can learn about what Medicare Advantage and prescription drug plans they have available in their area and can do some comparison of costs between plans.
But consumers and advocates have long known that MPF has some substantial limitations, and this report finds that consumers believe the tool is difficult to use when looking for important information. For example, information on out-of-pocket costs and network provider directories are both too limited within the tool, forcing consumers either to go to other sources or to choose a plan without knowing these details.
Improving the MPF is especially important today, with ever-increasing complexity in Medicare Advantage and prescription drug plans. Without solid information, tools, and assistance, people with Medicare cannot make the best choices for their individual circumstances. Because of this rising need, NCOA and the Clear Choices Campaign worked with diverse stakeholders and experts for a year to compile the report. This included conducting beneficiary interviews to better understand how users understand and, in many cases, struggle with the MPF.
The report’s authors also surveyed Medicare State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIPs), which use the MPF tool daily. In addition to providing other Medicare assistance, the SHIP program provides free, one-on-one counseling for people attempting to choose between traditional Medicare and an appropriate Medicare Advantage plan. While the SHIP program is a vital and specialized source of such assistance, SHIPs cannot hope to replace the sheer volume of MPF need.
In addition to highlighting some of the issues with the MPF tool, the report offers key recommendations for improvements. These include better communication of costs, an integrated provider directory, and more extensive testing for usability and accuracy.