It's still not ready: Medicare officials updated the agency's Web site this week with information about new prescription drug coverage plans. But a promised interactive tool to allow beneficiaries to comparison shop between plans still is not operational.
"Some data necessary for the full use of this innovative tool are not yet complete and some drug pricing data are being updated," reads a message on the government's Medicare Web site.
The Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Finder -- which officials had said would debut Monday after they delayed its rollout last week -- is on www.medicare.gov but does not allow users to punch in their medications to obtain cost comparisons of plans.
The tool was to be unveiled on Oct. 13, but officials delayed it, citing the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur. Mark B. McClellan, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told reporters this week that personalized plan comparisons would be available before Nov. 15, the date when seniors can begin signing up for the drug benefit. Coverage takes effect Jan. 1.
McClellan said that his agency had posted some plan information Monday to enable its 10,000 local partners to become more familiar with the material they will use to counsel beneficiaries. But "the critical ingredient to make this tool useful is not there yet," said Deane Beebe of the nonprofit Medicare Rights Center, which is warning consumers not to use the site. "This doesn't mean anything in terms of: 'How much am I going to pay for my Lipitor?' That's what people want to know."
-- Christopher Lee