Earlier this month Maine Republican Senator Olympia Snowe sent an angry letter to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services complaining of "inaccurate and misleading" pricing information. When one of her constituents, Caren Reed, signed onto medicare.gov to help her 85-year-old mother-in-law find a plan covering her eight prescription drugs, the website listed Fox Insurance Co.'s as the cheapest, at $2,850 annually for her copays, premiums and coverage gaps. But when Reed phoned the Scottsdale, Arizona company, she says a representative told her the yearly cost would actually be $4,232. "How can anyone make an intelligent decision when you have misinformation?" asks Reed, a retired attorney.
Medicare officials insist the website hasn't had a large number of errors, and that the few which have cropped up are due to incorrect information that the private companies supply. But even when it is correct seniors can face frustrating discrepancies because different pharmacies can charge different prices for the same drug. The numbers Fox gave the website for Reed's drugs were based on their "commonly purchased price," says marketing director David Kline, but the company rep gave Reed a higher quote in case her pharmacist charged more. He says the call center will now give quotes that match the website's. It may sound all too confusing, and indeed during a visit to a Virginia retirement community earlier this week, George W. Bush acknowledged that signing up for the drug benefit "is a daunting task" for some. But, the president maintained, it's still "a good deal for our seniors." As long, it seems, as they make sure the deal isn't too good to be true.