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After outcry, Medicare restores calculator to help seniors find lowest-priced drug plans

Six weeks after it sparked a national wave of protest by unveiling a revamped drug insurance website that omitted a tool used by millions, the federal agency that runs Medicare has restored its total-cost calculator to help seniors find the cheapest plans.

The calculator has long been the most popular feature of an online tool called Medicare Plan Finder. But when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services went live on Aug. 27 with an upgraded plan finder designed to be “simple and intuitive” for nearly 45 million older Americans, senior advocates, brokers, and volunteers who help enrollees sift through the options told CMS officials they were dismayed that the function wasn’t included.


CMS representatives, in a statement in early September, said the total-cost calculator “is a feature that has always been on our list to include, but couldn’t be completed in time” for the public launch of the updated plan finder. After an outcry that lasted weeks, the agency posted a new total-cost calculator late Wednesday, less than a week before the start of the annual open enrollment period, which runs from Oct. 15 through Dec. 1.

The outcry helped push CMS to get the new calculator online before the rush of seniors who switch drug plans during open enrollment, said Howard Houghton, a volunteer at the state health insurance assistance program in Harrisonburg, Va. “Until people started complaining,” he said, “it looked like it wasn’t going to be there.”

Justin Lubenow, executive vice president at Senior Advisors, a Moorestown, N.J., insurance brokerage, said he needed the calculator to begin reviews and recommendations for clients even before Oct. 15.

“It’s definitely working,” he said. “Just having that total-cost calculator up now is a big relief.”

Robert Weisman can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeRobW.