Mar 01, 2019

Empowering Patients and Unleashing Innovation: eMedicare for Today and Future Generations

Seema Verma
Administrator, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Public service is a privilege. My primary mission as the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is to deliver on President Trump’s commitment to strengthen and modernize Medicare for the millions of Americans who depend on us every day.  

To this end, at CMS we are constantly looking for new ways to better serve our beneficiaries. That’s why we started the eMedicare initiative.  

eMedicare is a multi-year initiative to modernize the way people with Medicare get information about their benefits, and create new ways to help them make the best decisions for themselves and their families. eMedicare empowers patients with the kinds of tools they are used to using in the private sector and other parts of their lives. Tools in the eMedicare suite include enhanced interactive online decision support to help beneficiaries and their caregivers better understand and evaluate their coverage options and costs between Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage, a new online service that lets people see how different coverage choices will affect their estimated out-of-pocket costs, new price transparency tools that let consumers compare the national average costs of certain procedures between settings, and a new webchat option in the Medicare Plan Finder.   

As part of eMedicare, CMS created the “What’s covered” app, which lets people with Original Medicare, caregivers, and others quickly see on a mobile device whether Medicare covers a specific medical item or service. People can now get accurate, consistent Original Medicare coverage information more easily—at the doctor’s office, in the hospital, or anywhere else.  

This app is designed to meet the needs of the growing population of people with Medicare. The Medicare population is projected to increase from 57 million beneficiaries in 2016 to more than 80 million beneficiaries in 2030.  

I’ve learned that with any improvement you try to make, there will always be naysayers. A recent article by Kaiser Health News surprised me, though, because it took a disappointing view of our nation’s seniors: that they are incapable of and not interested in using modern technology.  

Sadly, this type of ageism isn’t anything new. But it is inaccurate. CMS research has demonstrated repeatedly that many people with Medicare own smartphones and tablets, download apps, and use them all the time. According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2016, about two-thirds of Medicare beneficiaries indicate they use the Internet daily or almost daily (65 percent). There has been a 55 percent increase in Internet use among seniors since 2000 (from 12 percent to 67 percent). and around four-in-ten of seniors (42 percent) now report owning smartphones—compared to just 18 percent in 2013. The “What’s covered” app anticipates that smartphone use among people with Medicare will continue to grow. In addition, younger caregivers also use and benefit from apps to help understand health coverage. 

Questions about what Medicare covers are some of the most frequent inquiries CMS receives. There are approximately 15 million page views annually for coverage-related content on Medicare.gov and 1-800 MEDICARE receives more than 3 million coverage-related calls each year. Questions come from people with Medicare, caregivers, clinicians, and others who engage with the Medicare program. 

Critics may disparage our efforts, but more than 230,000 people downloaded our new app in less than a month. Before its launch, people with Medicare tested the app and told us they found it easy to use. We’ve already released updates to address feedback and plan to offer more features in future versions. 

The eMedicare initiative expands and improves on current consumer service options. It doesn’t replace them. If beneficiaries like the convenience of apps, we now have one. If they prefer to search online, Medicare.gov has tons of content. If they prefer to leaf through a book, the Medicare & You handbook continues to be a great resource. And if they want to talk to a person, our 1-800-MEDICARE call center is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

Our goal is to continue our efforts to empower patients and unleash innovation to deliver results. We are developing eMedicare tools that will help people select their best coverage and evaluate the quality of providers. We will continue to anticipate the needs of Medicare beneficiaries and their caregivers to help them take greater control of their healthcare. This is how we are putting patients first and strengthening Medicare.

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