Government agency deems Medicare call centers unhelpful

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Medicare carrier call centers, mandated by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in 2001, aren't making it easier for providers to comply with billing regulations because customer service representatives rarely get information correct, according to a study by the Government Accountability Office.

Only 4% of the responses GAO received in 300 test calls to 34 call centers were correct and complete, the study said.

The agency said the reasons the questions weren't answered correctly include fragmented sources of information, confusing policy information and difficulties in retaining call center staff.

The GAO recommends CMS create a process to routinely screen and triage calls, develop clear materials for call center staff, and assess the representatives' performance.

The report can be found at www.gao.gov/new.items/d04669.pdf.