Press Release             

Contact: Paul Precht
Director of Policy and Communications

Akiko Takano
Deputy Director of Communications

March 3, 2009

Government Agency Must Overhaul Its Counseling and Education Efforts for People with Medicare, Consumer Service Organization Says

The MedicareRightsCenter Proposes New Approach for
the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

New York, NY – The Medicare Rights Center, a national consumer service organization, called on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to make sweeping changes to its counseling and consumer education programs.

“The current policy relies on an expensive and inadequate toll-free service—1-800-Medicare—to meet the demand for consumer advice that is fueled by a needlessly complicated array of private drug and health plan options,” said Paul Precht, Director of Policy and Communications. “We have outlined key steps toward improving consumers’ experience with Medicare in a cost-effective manner. The first step is a renewed commitment by the incoming leadership at CMS to putting the interests of people with Medicare at the center of all its education and counseling efforts.”

“People with Medicare need significantly more assistance from the federal government in order to receive the benefits to which they are entitled,” said Dr. Bruce Vladeck, chairman of the Medicare Rights Center Board of Directors and former administrator of CMS (then HCFA). “It’s long past time for CMS to refocus on its primary mission of serving consumers. Doing so will be neither very hard nor terribly expensive; CMS just has to decide that’s what it wants to do.”

In a proposal submitted to Governor Kathleen Sebelius, President Obama’s designee as Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Medicare Rights Center outlined how CMS’s counseling and education programs currently work, and why they do not meet the needs of consumers. They recommended a new approach, which would be guided by the following objectives:

  1. Congress and the Administration must standardize Medicare private health plans (also known as “Medicare Advantage” plans) and drug plan choices to allow people with Medicare to make informed choices and eliminate wasteful spending;

  2. CMS must revise its organizational structure and create a new office that is attuned to and accountable for meeting the educational and counseling needs of people with Medicare;

  3. CMS must harness the experience and resources of community and advocacy organizations, including State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIPs), and better equip them to serve people with Medicare; and

  4. CMS must move toward greater use of dynamic, interactive web-based education and counseling resources and reduce dependence on the 1-800-Medicare telephone hotline.

The report is available at


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Medicare Rights Center is a national, not-for-profit consumer service organization that works to ensure access to affordable health care for older adults and people with disabilities through counseling and advocacy, educational programs, and public policy initiatives.


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