Poll finds Medicare hotline callers frustrated

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Callers to the U.S. government’s hotline for the Medicare health program for senior citizens are increasingly frustrated by the service, according to a poll released on Thursday.

The Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general reported 71 percent of those who completed calls to the 1-800-MEDICARE line were satisfied in 2007, a drop of 13 percentage points from 2004 data.

Medicare added a prescription drug benefit to its health plan in 2006, which led to much confusion as recipients faced hundreds of private and public choices. Caller volume spiked 68 percent to 49 million calls in 2006 compared with 2004, the study found.

The Office of Inspector General, which audits and investigates the agency, recommended reviewing the interactive voice response system to determine if more staff should be hired to man the phone lines.

Callers were more likely to hang up in frustration than in 2004, the survey said. About 21 percent of callers hung up before getting an answer in the survey, up from 12 percent in 2004, the report found.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs the Medicare program for 42 million elderly and disabled, said it is working on simplifying choices and improving its service.

The poll, conducted in January, is based on a sample of about 200 callers who had used the service repeatedly.