Lower Medicare Star Ratings Can Be a Reflection of Poor Customer Service
I have just unofficially confirmed that when you enroll in a Medicare plan with less than four or five stars, you may also forgo receiving star treatment from the plan’s customer service department. That’s why I’m going to step away from my planned series on proposed changes to Medicare for 2013 and share this story that demonstrates the significance of the Medicare star rating system.
No straight answers after spending one-half hour on the phone
This afternoon I received an email from one of my readers regarding a confusing letter she had received from SilverScript Insurance, the company that sponsors the CVS Caremark prescription drug plans. Having just spent a half hour on the phone with SilverScript customer service—and still not satisfied with the answers she received (or should I say didn’t receive)—“Joanne” contacted me to ask if I could help her.
“I don’t know about you, but people need blood pressure pills trying to talk to these customer service people,” she told me. “The first person I talked to had no idea what I was talking about so she told me to call this other number. Then that person also gave me another number to call. When I called that number I got a fax machine. I just want a straight answer!”
According to Joanne, she received a letter from SilverScript advising her that as a SilverScript plan member, she was entitled to the CVS ExtraCare Health Card, which provides a 20 percent discount on health-related products at CVS stores. The problem, however, is that Joanne is not a member of a SilverScript prescription drug plan.
Joanne said she called the customer service number listed on the letter to find out why she had received the card and whether there is any charge to use the card for non-members. Joanne told me she was transferred from one representative to another, but no one was able to answer her questions or even find her name in the ExtraCare database. The representatives all seemed in a hurry to end the call, she said. “Maybe tomorrow if I’m in a better mood I’ll try calling back again.”
My first thought was that perhaps Joanne had accidentally enrolled in a CVS Caremark plan during Open Enrollment. It was also possible that a former employer had enrolled her in a CVS Caremark plan as part of a group benefit program for its retirees. Although Joanne would have received correspondence from the former employer advising her of this enrollment, there is always that slim chance that she put the notices aside or even threw them away, thinking it was junk mail.
I wrote back to Joanne and asked her if any of the above scenarios were possible. I explained why it was important for her to confirm that she had not been enrolled in a CVS Caremark plan – and to also confirm that she was still a member of her Part D plan of choice. (Because you can never be enrolled in more than one Part D plan at a time, had she enrolled in a CVS plan, she would have been automatically disenrolled from her current plan.)
Customer Service did not take “ExtraCare”
My questions prompted an “Aha!” moment for Joanne. Turns out she was automatically enrolled in a CVS Caremark plan two years ago when the company that sponsored her former plan went out of business. Apparently the marketing firm for the ExtraCare card still had her name and address on record even though she was no longer a plan member. So it appears to me that the three or four customer service reps Joanne spoke to at SilverScript failed to take “ExtraCare” to ask pertinent questions in order to resolve what turned out to be a fairly simple matter.
SilverScript’s Medicare Part D plans (CVS Caremark Value and CVS Caremark Plus) may have received an overall rating of 3 stars from Medicare this year, but today I give their customer service department only 2 stars (and that’s only because I was finally transferred to Hope, who was able to answer one of Joanne’s questions: No, there is no charge to use the ExtraCare Health Card for non-members, but non-members do not get the 20 percent discount, so there is no benefit to using the card.) Thank you, Hope, for giving us at least one straight answer.