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Un-Jumbling the Medicare bill

By Jay MacDonald ·
Friday, March 9, 2012
Posted: 10 am ET

Tomorrow, the feds will unveil a new consumer-friendly Medicare billing statement that officials hope will mobilize their largest fighting force in the war against Medicare fraud: America's 36 million Medicare recipients.

If you think that's a lot to ask of a mere paperwork redesign, consider its promo material: "You can make a difference! Last year Medicare saved taxpayers $4 billion – the largest sum ever reported in a single year thanks to people who reported suspicious activity to Medicare."

And that outrageous money-grab was uncovered by recipients of the old form.

The new statement, which will be posted on the medicare site on Saturday, breaks with previous versions by enlarging the type and explaining Medicare services in plain English. The revised quarterly paper statements won't be available until next year however.

The new form touts another incentive for seniors to actually read their new statement instead of using it as scratch paper to solve the Jumble: a reward of up to $1,000 for tipping the feds to bogus charges. The reward itself isn't new; it's just never been mentioned on previous billing statements, much less in large print.

"It shouldn't be a scavenger hunt," said Erin Pressley, the director of creative services who supervised the new form for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. "We approached this redesign from the standpoint of making it a more consumer-friendly document for beneficiaries and also a better fraud-fighting tool. If they are paying attention to these documents, they are going to be the best defense we have."

The new form also makes it easier for Medicare recipients and their beneficiaries to file appeals online when a claim has been denied rather than waiting for the bill to arrive via snail mail.

Will it work? Given that current Medicare statements run to a dozen pages or more and are written in the medical version of Sanskrit, any improvement is bound to help combat what by some estimates could be $120 billion in annual Medicare fraud.

Making Medicare statements more accessible should help seniors do more than merely solve the Jumble.

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