Google search more accurate than Medicare Advantage directories, study finds

Compared to Google, Medicare Advantage provider directories contained less accurate information, according to a study published in the American Journal of Managed Care.

Austin Frakt, PhD, director of the Partnered Evidence-Based Policy Resource Center at the V.A. Boston Healthcare System and a co-author of the study, wrote in a column for The New York Times that even for researchers, "figuring out which doctors are available (and where) can be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible" for Medicare Advantage plans.

While Medicare Advantage has been promoted by the Trump administration as an alternative to Medicare that offers more coverage for a lower price tag, Dr. Frakt writes that often a limitation of the plans — that physician networks may be narrower — is omitted from this discourse.

In addition, directories for the plans are often riddled with errors. CMS found nearly half of provider entries had either address errors, incorrect phone numbers or physicians who weren't accepting new patients, according to Dr. Frakt, who cited government audits of Medicare Advantage plans.

Legislators have attempted to address some of these issues by proposing that Medicare Advantage plans and other health plans offer members an electronic version of their provider directories.

"Still, because there is no way for Medicare beneficiaries to compare plan networks, people could easily stumble into a narrow network plan without knowing it," Dr. Frakt wrote. "As with many things in healthcare, it's hard to make an informed decision."

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