Medicare Change Causing Headaches for Some

Saving money is great but sometimes money-saving changes can come as quite a disruption. That’s been the case for some as Medicare (which turned 48 this week) introduced changes intended to cut down on fraud and waste, and save money for the government and consumers.

Beginning July 1, Medicare expanded nationally what had been a regional pilot program that focused on diabetic supplies, such as test strips. At the same time, Medicare also expanded a similar pilot program focused on durable medical supplies (this pilot program currently affects Rockingham and Strafford Counties in N.H.). The pilot programs introduced a competitive bidding process that allowed Medicare to weed out fraudulent suppliers, and achieve savings by getting suppliers to sell for less.

A side effect of that bidding process is that smaller, local businesses could no longer afford the Medicare reimbursement level. Several SEA members, including retirees George Fryer and John Amrol, found that was the case at the Prescription Center in Concord, where each went for diabetic test strips.

“The Prescription Center informed me when I went to get a refill this month that the changes in Medicare didn’t give them enough money to even cover their costs for my testing strips,” Fryer said.

Fryer ended up going with a mail order supplier, one of 18 approved by Medicare, though figuring it out wasn’t an easy process.

“This can all be confusing, and it can be for anybody,” he said.

Fryer said the change took him by surprise.

“Apparently, I was notified about a month earlier, but if any letter came to me, I must have misplaced it or just thought it didn’t concern me,” he said.

Amrol said he received a letter from Medicare making him aware of the change and called the number on the paper to direct him to suppliers. Somehow, though, he said he ended up being routed directly to a supplier, taking away the ability to choose. When calling the 800 number – Medicare’s main number – you’re greeted by a computerized menu, so it’s understandable that one could get confused.

He said the problem is probably widespread.

“There are a lot of senior citizens — think of some of our retirees — and they probably have no concept of what to do or who to call,” he said. “I would think there’s 100 others just like me.”

Amrol said he’d eventually go through the process, but that he wasn’t happy about it.

“If I have to, I have to,” he said. “It’s like they’re telling you to jump through hoops, but they’re not telling you where the hoops are.”

You can reach Medicare at 1-800-633-4227 (that’s the number we mentioned above), but we found the website, which has a specific page dealing with the change, to be much easier to use. To find that page, go to http://medicare.gov/supplierdirectory/.

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