Medicare Sets Up IVR Directory

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Medicare has set up a toll-free number serviced by an interactive voice response unit to direct 30 million subscribers in 45 states to the appropriate information on changes in the government insurance plan for seniors.

Through the number, subscribers can get information and bulletins regarding the Medicare+Choice system, which goes into effect Jan. 1. The line also provides the phone numbers of the Medicare offices in subscribers' home states, where they can speak to someone about their questions.

Medicare+Choice, which was passed as part of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, expands the options available to Medicare beneficiaries. Under it, eligible seniors may choose to receive Medicare benefits by enrolling in one of several private health plans beyond the original Medicare program or the plans that are available through managed care organizations.

"We sent out a direct mailing to the subscribers to let them know of the new line," said a spokesperson for Medicare.

The call center has received 40,000 calls since the mailing went out on Nov. 2. The states not included in the mailing, Arizona, Florida, Ohio, Oregon and Washington, have a separate help line that has been in effect and has not changed.

Since the call center is fully automated, it does not require any staffing.

"Customers leave their address and will receive the information requested in the mail," he said.

The mailing notifying subscribers of the 800 number was accompanied by the bulletin, "Medicare and You."

In a study released over the summer, Langhorne, PA, direct response agency DiMark, a Harte Hanks company, estimated that the government would spend $114 million to educate the public about the new system, but that a minimum of $400 million in media spending is needed to achieve widespread understanding.

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