Medicare's CostFinder is actually steering users wrong an alarmingpercentage of the time—with cost estimates that aren't accurate anderror-ridden coverage specifics. (Image: Shutterstock)

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So it appears that it's open season on more than health plan enrollment. Seniors are in thefiring line too, after a Trump administration redesign of theonline Medicare Cost Finder has been found to provide seniors withthe wrong information that provides faulty data not just onplans—but on their costs as well.

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ProPublica reports that the $11 million tool, which wassupposed to help seniors navigate the complex waters of availableMedicare plans, is actually steering them wrong an alarmingpercentage of the time—with cost estimates that aren't accurate anderror-ridden coverage specifics.

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Related: Navigating Social Security, Medicare andHSAs

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In fact, the problem is so bad that Nebraska actually shut downits volunteer Medicare advisor network—about 350 strong—becausewithout the tool's guidance, comparisons of the more than 4,000plans available across the country "down to three top selectionswould be nearly impossible," according to the report.

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In addition, it says that prescription drug plan EnvisionRxPluse-mailed independent insurance brokers nationwide to cautionagainst using the Medicare Plan Finder "because of incorrectestimates on drug prices and patient deductibles."

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With more than 60 million people faced with an annual planselection choice and a faulty tool, the ramifications are downrightscary—particularly since the full effects of incorrect choiceswon't be felt till seniors start heading to doctors and pharmaciesin 2020 to get treatment or prescriptions and are hit with thefallout from the tool's shortcomings.

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"Millions of people are going to be absolutely affected," AnnKayrish, senior program manager for Medicare at the NationalCouncil on Aging, told ProPublica. "And you hate to thinkabout millions of people having the wrong plan. That's kind ofcrazy."

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"It's not like there's one consistent problem that you can fixand then be addressed," David Lipschutz, associate director of theCenter for Medicare Advocacy, said. "It's really like a game ofwhack-a-mole."

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While the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid acknowledged thatthere have been reports of problems, it claimed that there had been"extensive consumer testing … to ensure that the information thatis displayed is complete, streamlined, understandable, and is inplain language." The federal website does not warn of any problemswith the redesigned tool, but inaccuracies are cited in the reportranging from inaccuracies in everything from copays to medicationquantities to prior authorization requirements.

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It's not that the old tool was error-free and user-friendly, butthe redesign does not seem to have helped the situation. Lisa Bari,an independent consultant who previously worked on health IT,interoperability and artificial intelligence at the CMS innovationcenter, is quoted in the report saying that the kinds of problemsmaterializing from the redesigned tool's use suggest to her thatthere hasn't been sufficient user acceptance testing, resulting inlogic, calculation and coding errors.

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