October 2001 Bulletin

GAO report finds contractors poor communicators

Medicare contractors have done a poor job in communicating with physicians and other health care providers, the General Accounting Office reported to the House Committee on the Budget.

William J. Scanlon, GAO director, Health Care Issues, told the panel in July that the GAO reviewed contractor bulletins by nine carriers to determine if they included notices about new billing procedures to go into effect. The investigation found five carriers either did not publish the information until after the procedures had gone into effect or had not published the information as of the day of the report to the House committee.

The GAO placed about 60 calls to five carrier call centers to obtain answers to common questions. For 85 percent of the calls placed, the answers were either incomplete (53 percent) or inaccurate (32 percent).

The GAO also found the web sites of 10 carriers lacking. Eight of the web sites did not meet the GAO’s minimum requirements for web sites, which include the inclusion of frequently asked questions and capability of providers to send e-mail inquires to customer services. Although six sites had search functions, only four worked as intended. Five sites had outdated information. The GAO noted that in recent testimony to the Senate Committee on Finance, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services emphasized the importance of communication, stating, "When physicians call us...we need to respond quickly, thoroughly and accurately." The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS, formerly Health Care Financing Administration) is expected to improve its customer service to the provider community, Scanlon said.

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