The report -- authored by Reps. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif.; John D. Dingell, D-Mich.; Charles B. Rangel, D-NY; Pete Stark, D-Calif. and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio -- found that private Medicare providers gave inaccurate or incomplete information on 66 percent of calls. Two providers gave wrong information 75 percent of the time.
Private providers also could not provide accurate critical cost information. Two of the GAO's "test" questions asked which drug plans would provide seniors the lowest out-of-pocket costs, and what those costs would be. Operators gave wrong or incomplete answers 70 percent of the time, and one hotline operator underestimated the costs by $6,000.
Private plan operators also frequently gave conflicting answers for the same question. For example, a caller was told that one plan was the least expensive, but on a different call was then told a different plan was the least expensive.
"It's not enough to simply answer the phone," said Rep. Stark. "If private plans can't meet basic standards for quality service, they shouldn't be in the program." Stark also called for a re-opening of 2006 enrollment for the program, saying that citizens shouldn't have to remain without coverage or in the wrong plan for the rest of the year because they received inaccurate information.
"The lack of accurate and understandable information for our seniors has been a chronic problem since the beginning of Medicare Part D," said Rep. Dingell. "Senior citizens are being hurt by the indifference and incompetence of the Bush administration and its friends in the insurance industry."
Rep. Brown called for Republican leaders to help Democrats pass a bill through Congress that would allow seniors to add drug benefits directly to Medicare and allow Medicare to negotiate bulk discounts on drug prices.
Created under the Bush Administration, the current Medicare benefit program prohibits the U.S. government from negotiating volume discounts with pharmaceutical companies and is widely considered a "Big Pharma handout" by critics.
Americans pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, often spending 300 percent more on some drugs than Europeans or Canadians.