Medi­care blun­der costs $50 mil­lion; checks wrongly sent to 231,000

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Jen­nifer Harper

So what’s a mere $49,665,000 among friends? That’s about how much was sent out by mis­take to Medi­care re­cip­i­ents af­ter one big fed­eral agency mis­in­formed an­other big fed­eral agency.

The Cen­ters for Medi­care and Med­i­caid Ser­vices (CMS) dis­trib­uted checks two weeks ago av­er­ag­ing $215 each to 231,000 Medi­care ben­e­fi­cia­ries to re­im­burse them for pre­scrip­tion-drug cov­er­age. Trou­ble was, the mail­ing was based on faulty in­for­ma­tion: CMS mis­tak­enly placed those par­tic­i­pants on a list of those who do not have money with­held from their So­cial Se­cu­rity check to cover pre­mi­ums.

Of course, the pricey blun­der was sent over to So­cial Se­cu­rity, the checks is­sued — and now Medi­care wants the money back. CMS has is­sued a let­ter of apol­ogy, plus a po­lite re­quest to re­cip­i­ents to re­turn the funds.

But not to worry, the glitch is fixed and all is well, said CMS spokesman Jeff Nel­li­gan.

“Ev­ery­thing is un­der con­trol. We moved im­me­di­ately af­ter we found there was a prob­lem,” he said yes­ter­day. “Most im­por­tantly, no cov­er­age has lapsed for any ben­e­fi­cia­ries, and there will be no de­lays or dis­rup­tions. The let­ters ad­vis­ing peo­ple of the over­pay­ment were al­ready in the mail last week­end.”

The num­ber of peo­ple af­fected is rel­a­tively small, Mr. Nel­li­gan said, con­sti­tut­ing about 1 per­cent of the to­tal ben­e­fi­ciary pop­u­la­tion. But some say the sys­tem is an ac­ci­dent wait­ing to hap­pen.

“It’s a mess, and this sit­u­a­tion was in­evitable,” said Vicki Got­tlich of the Wash­ing­ton, D.C.based Cen­ter for Medi­care Ad­vo­cacy, a watch­dog group that gave CMS tepid re­views last month in an anal­y­sis of the new Medi­care Part D, which of­fers sub­si­dies for med­i­ca­tions.

The re­port deemed both ben­e­fits and myr­iad reg­u­la­tions con­fus­ing and a source of frus­tra­tion for Medi­care par­tic­i­pants since the plan took ef­fect in Jan­uary, Ms. Got­tlich said.

“For the last eight months, we’ve helped peo­ple who have had pre­mi­ums im­prop­erly de­ducted, or were charged for plans they didn’t en­roll in. We’ve seen plenty of glitches al­ready,” she said. “This week’s glitch is ev­i­dence that fed­eral gov­ern­ment sys­tems can’t sup­port the com­plex­i­ties of PartD. We’re par­tic­u­larly con­cerned that peo­ple will con­clude they’re not en­ti­tled to their ben­e­fits.”

Mean­while, CMS di­rec­tor Mark McClel­lan said on Aug. 23 that in­sur­ers who ad­min­is­ter the drug ben­e­fit will con­tinue to be paid for ben­e­fi­cia­ries af­fected by the er­ror, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­ated Press. About 5 mil­lion peo­ple pay monthly drug-cov­er­age pre­mi­ums by hav­ing money with­held from their So­cial Se­cu­rity checks.

Mr. McClel­lan also said the gov­ern­ment can’t make monthly pre­mium de­duc­tions again un­til Oc­to­ber. CMS plans to work with ben­e­fi­cia­ries who face fi­nan­cial trou­bles be­cause they ei­ther cashed the over­pay­ment or can’t af­ford mul­ti­ple pre­mi­ums with­drawn from a sin­gle So­cial Se­cu­rity check.

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