Survey: Medicare patients clueless about health plan ratings

Most Medicare beneficiaries have no idea how the federal program's rating system works, according to a new Kaiser Permanente survey.

The survey comes as the annual enrollment period for seniors starts Saturday. The Department of Health and Human Services has been touting its new Medicare Star Quality Ratings program as a way for seniors to pick the best plan, but the survey found that only 18 percent of beneficiaries are familiar with it - and only 2 percent actually knew their current plan's rating.

"Evaluating a Medicare plan can be challenging. There are many things to consider, but quality should be at the top of any consumer's list," Kaiser Permanente's senior vice president for quality, Jed Weissberg, said in a statement. "Educating consumers about and encouraging them to use the Medicare Star Quality Ratings helps to ensure that Medicare beneficiaries are receiving only the best available care."

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released the 2012 ratings on Wednesday. The agency points out that this year it is highlighting plans that have achieved an overall quality rating of 5 stars with a high performer or "gold star" icon to help beneficiaries choose the best plans.

"Over the past year," CMS Administrator Donald Berwick said in a statement. "we have worked to improve health coverage choices for people with Medicare, and make it easier for people to find a plan that is both a good value and meets their health care needs."