Lawmakers upset as computer glitch stalls Medicare payments

A computer glitch that is siphoning money out of some Medicare beneficiaries’ Social Security checks has raised the ire of four Florida lawmakers who want the Medicare agency to explain why it can take months to return such money to beneficiaries.

Last week, Florida Democratic Reps. Robert Wexler, Alcee Hastings, Ron Klein and Debbie Wasserman Schultz sent a letter to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) acting Administrator Leslie Norwalk demanding a full explanation of why the money has been taken out of their constituents’ checks, how the agency intends to address the problem and when the problem will be cleared up.

“Our congressional offices have contacted your office, but CMS has not even given a timeframe by which this issue will be resolved,” the lawmakers, who represent South Florida districts with high concentrations of older Americans, wrote.

“Ms. Norwalk, our seniors deserve better. We, therefore, respectfully ask that you provide our offices with a direct and comprehensive update on this unacceptable situation and demand that CMS immediately fix this problem,” the letter reads.

CMS and the Social Security Administration have faced questions from Capitol Hill several times in the last year about problems with Medicare premiums that are automatically, but erroneously, deducted from some senior citizens’ monthly checks. In addition, CMS attracted a lawsuit by seniors’ groups last year when it accidentally sent refunds to some seniors who were not supposed to get them, then quickly sought to reclaim the money.

“[For] our district staff, the majority of the Medicare cases they’re working on are these things,” Wexler spokesman Josh Rogin said.

Aides said they could not be sure how many beneficiaries have been affected by the glitch but said all of their offices have received complaints. In addition, a South Florida Sun-Sentinel article published two weeks ago highlighted several beneficiaries’ problems, prompted more constituent calls and partly motivated the April 18 letter to CMS, they said.

In the case of the Florida House members’ constituents, some beneficiaries joined managed-care plans through the Medicare Advantage program that offer a subsidy for their monthly premiums for Medicare Part B, which covers doctor visits. Even though such managed-care plans are covering all or part of these beneficiaries’ Part B premiums, the full amount was deducted from their Social Security checks. In some cases, the deductions continued for consecutive months.

“We have constituents who have waited over 15 months for this problem to be resolved and to obtain their refunds,” the lawmakers wrote.

When congressional offices intervene, the cases get cleared up more quickly, aides said, but they do not understand why some problems can be resolved and others cannot. “Even with the help of our offices, it has taken some constituents many months to receive their refunds and many are still waiting,” the lawmakers wrote.

“It’s unclear to us as to why one case takes six months as opposed to others,” Wasserman Schultz spokesman Jonathon Beeton said. “It’s unacceptable.”

Hastings spokesman David Goldberg said that none of the people they have tried to assist have gotten their cases expedited, however. “[Hastings is] deeply concerned about this and is concerned that they haven’t fixed it,” Goldberg said.

The financial hardship facing the beneficiaries also varies, but most of the individuals have low incomes, the aides said.

One of the problems, congressional staffers said, is that CMS has only a few people working on the cases. “They need to devote more resources to this,” Rogin said. Goldberg said that CMS staff also have not fully explained what they problem is, describing it as a computer glitch without further elaboration.