CMS customer service fails GAO test

Sunday, December 12, 2004

December 13, 2004

WASHINGTON - The people who answer Medicare’s telephone help line gave accurate responses to questions less than two-thirds of the time, according to a congressional investigation made public last month.
Perhaps the most embarrassing gaffe concerned a question about power wheelchairs. Confusing “trunk strength” - the term used by Medicare to mean upper body strength - with the size of a car trunk, one operator “incorrectly explained that Medicare would only cover a power wheelchair if a beneficiary had adequate space to put it in the trunk of his car,” GAO said.
To conduct the study, the GAO placed 420 calls to the 1-800 MEDICARE help line. Customer service representatives answered 61% of the calls accurately and provided inaccurate answers 29% of the time. For the remaining 10% of the calls, CSRs either transferred callers to other Medicate contractors that were closed or inadvertently disconnected the call.
CMS’s customer service people spend two weeks in the classroom to train for the job. Before handling calls, CSRs must answer correctly two simulated calls consecutively and score at least 90% on a written exam.