Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Elderly and disabled Americans who got erroneous refunds from the federal government last week will get a letter this week instructing them on how to repay the money.
About 230,000 Medicare recipients got refunds totaling $50 million because of a computer glitch. The average reimbursement was for $215.
The first and easiest step for beneficiaries to repay the money is to write VOID on the face of the check and mail it to the following address: Medicare-Drug Premiums, P.O. Box 9058, Pleasanton, CA 94566-9058.
The same address can be used when seniors want to reimburse the money either through a personal check or money order. Officials say the check should be made payable to "Medicare." The check should also include a notation with the beneficiaries' account number. The account number will be cited in the letter that seniors get this week from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Also, on Tuesday, the federal government will establish a toll-free telephone line for seniors and the disabled to call between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. EDT. The number is 1-866-292-8080.
Operators will be able to answer whether beneficiaries were affected by the glitch. They also can help people arrange to have the repayments withdrawn from their bank account and transferred electronically to the federal government, though this option will require that seniors provide personal banking information to the operator.
Some seniors may have received more than $500. For those who need to pay that money back gradually, people can ask to make up to seven monthly payments. Lawmakers had called on CMS to give seniors plenty of time to give the money back. The same toll-free number should be used for beneficiaries wanting installment plans.
To prevent fraud, CMS asked seniors not to give out any personal information to anybody calling offering help with the reimbursement. Medicare will not call anybody effected by the glitch.
Lawmakers for both political parties have expressed frustration with the premium reimbursements, and they've asked CMS Administrator Mark McClellan for a detailed report on how the error occurred and how the agency will try not to let it happen again. Some lawmakers have called for congressional hearings on the problem.
"We're adding some additional checks on the data before it goes over," McClellan said.