HCFA revamps Medicare site

The Heath Care Financing Administration has beefed up its World Wide Web site for Medicare recipients by adding information that will enable beneficiaries to shop for the best health care plans and nursing homes throughout the United States.

Medicare.gov, which made its debut in March 1998, was designed to assist the 39 million Medicare beneficiaries and the family members that act on their behalf in making informed health care choices, said Mary Agnes Laureno, director of education and health promotions at HCFA. The site receives 3.7 million hits each month and provides information on a variety of topics, including tips about Medicare eligibility and enrollment, fraud and abuse, and contact numbers for more information.

"We believe that 7 percent to 15 percent of the elderly uses the Internet," Laureno said. "We have donated computers to senior citizen centers, and we're also targeting children who are decision-makers for their parents."

Under a $1.2 million contract awarded to American Management Systems Inc. (AMS), Fairfax, Va., HCFA restructured and enhanced the Web site, including its two most visited sections, Medicare Compare and Nursing Home Compare.

Medicare Compare enables users to shop for the best health care plan, enabling them to compare the cost of premiums and benefits.

Users also can determine how well a plan keeps its members healthy or treats them when they are sick. Nursing Home Compare enables users to get the results of HCFA's most recent survey about particular types of problems found in the 17,000 Medicare-certified nursing homes throughout the country.

In addition, users can review the most recent inspection results for each nursing home.

"The point of the site is for HCFA to be able to provide information to beneficiaries for them to determine what type of Medical insurance or nursing facility they want to help with their needs," said Rajeev Puri, senior principal at AMS. In updating the Web site, AMS leveraged its team of usability engineers, which include experts in biomedical engineering, Web design, linguistics, psychology and software engineering, and other technical support staff.

"We are excited to be a part of this important initiative and are confident that our e-commerce, health care and broad technology experience will allow us to create a world-class Web site for the Medicare beneficiaries," said Robert Hylas, vice president at AMS.

Laureno said HCFA will expand the Web site in September to include an outreach community calendar that lists health fairs, lectures and presentations throughout the country for beneficiaries. Also, the site will add information on Medigap, a program in which private insurance companies sell insurance to Medicare beneficiaries.

Puri said HCFA also is beefing up publicity on the Web site and encouraging beneficiaries to use it as their primary source of information.

"Last year, very few people knew about the site," Puri said. "Now the [Uniform Resource Locator] is printed on the handbook. HCFA is pushing the Web site because it has the latest information."

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