June 11, 2004

The Medicare Information Challenge

Medicare recipients are being asked to choose among 73 discount drug card programs, which each come with a print brochure laying out the details. Problem is, according to a recent investigation by the Washington Post, many of the brochures are outdated and consumers must go to a Web site or call an 800 number to get the best information on drug prices. The wrong decision could cost a consumer big money and yet the law restricts a person to changing their mind just once – after that, they are stuck with the card they choose.

OK, so a high-stakes financial decision faces a big group of consumers. Most experienced Internet users might say, “So what, I got a great deal on my car last year based on Web research – all you have to do is look at the information online.” But only 22% of seniors and 38% of Americans living with a disability use the Internet. Plus, a large portion of these groups who are online are pretty new to the Web. Will they be able to navigate www.medicare.gov? Possibly. They are as likely as other Internet users to look for health information online – including information about prescription or over the counter drugs.

There’s another ray of hope for un-wired Medicare recipients. They might be able to rely on their wired loved ones to do the online research. Indeed, in a national poll conducted in January 2002, 39% of Internet users said they had helped another person deal with a major illness or health condition in the last two years.

But what about the huge group of Medicare recipients who don’t know someone who goes online? They are truly disconnected and therefore left at a disadvantage when it comes to making health care choices.