Academic journal article Health Care Financing Review

HCFA's Consumer Information Commitment

Academic journal article Health Care Financing Review

HCFA's Consumer Information Commitment

Article excerpt

This article provides examples of how the Health Care Financing Administration is providing Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries with information that will allow them to become more active participants in decisions affecting their health and well-being. The article emphasizes how HCFA has incorporated a beneficiary-centered focus and social marketing techniques in its consumer information activities. The work described in this article represents a cross section of the innovative and excellent work being done by staff throughout the Agency and by our partners and agents in meeting the information needs of beneficiaries.


HCFA's mission is to assure health care security for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. As part of assuring health care security for beneficiaries, HCFA is committed to providing clear and useful information to assist them in making health care decisions. This commitment was reaffirmed in HCFA's recent evaluation of how the Agency will successfully meet current and future challenges in realizing its mission, known as the HCFA of Tomorrow initiative. As a part of this initiative, HCFA has defined its core role to be a beneficiary-centered purchaser. In fact, HCFA's planned reorganization emphasizes this beneficiary-centered focus by having, for the first time, a principal operational component explicitly dedicated to understanding and meeting the needs of beneficiaries.

This beneficiary focus and the use of social marketing techniques are incorporated in HCFA's consumer information activities. HCFA's basic approach to achieving its consumer information goal is to first assess the needs of these populations affected by HCFA programs, e.g., asking beneficiaries, both directly and through their representatives, to tell HCFA what information they need and how well we are responding to these needs. Then, we design communication interventions to address these needs. This step includes emphasis on understanding the requirements of populations with special communications needs (e.g., vision impaired or non-English speaking beneficiaries). And finally, we measure the effectiveness and efficiency of the intervention in meeting the specified goal. This performance information provides feedback needed to continuously improve the communications we have with beneficiaries. Examples of HCFA's beneficiary focused communication activities follow.


The HCFA publication entitled, Your Medicare Handbook, is intended to educate beneficiaries on the basics of Medicare, including: who is eligible, how to enroll in Medicare, and Part A and Part B benefits, coverage, and limitations. The Handbook also provides beneficiaries with the information they need on their rights and obligations under Medicare, information on Medicare and managed care, and access information to organizations that may be contacted for additional assistance with Medicare and related matters.

For the past several years, this Handbook has been mailed only to new enrollees because of budget constraints. However, in 1996 the Handbook was sent out to 37 million Medicare beneficiaries. HCFA sent this universal mailing in response to feedback obtained from beneficiaries that the Handbook is a critical source of information on program benefits and policies. This general mailing of the Handbook demonstrates the importance that HCFA places on providing beneficiaries with information on their benefits and health care choices. As part of a continued commitment to provide this information, HCFA is investigating the use of a variety of distribution channels to reach the broader audience, including beneficiaries, their families and advocacy groups.


In 1994, HCFA initiated the Health Status Consumer Information Program (CIP). This program provides information to improve the healthy behaviors and health status of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. …

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