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More than 60% of limited English proficient callers to Medicare Prescription Drug Plans were not connected with an individual speaking their language

Oakland, CA – A new report by the National Senior Citizens Law Center (NSCLC) and partner organizations indicates that companies that contract with the federal government to provide prescription drug coverage to Medicare beneficiaries in California are falling far short of their obligation to provide service in languages other than English. The California Medicare Part D Language Access Coalition, led by NSCLC, conducted a survey to assess Medicare Part D plan call center service in California to beneficiaries with limited English proficiency. The survey results indicate that plans are not meeting their obligation to provide information to individuals in languages other than English. Nearly 30 percent of California’s one million low-income Part D beneficiaries are limited English proficient. Key results of the survey include:

More than 60% of calls placed never reached an individual speaking the language of the caller.
More than 50% of all calls ended without any attempt by the plan representative to connect the caller to someone speaking the caller’s language.
The rate of successful calls varied greatly by language: only Spanish calls exceeded a 50% success rate. Non-Spanish speaking limited English proficient individuals who call their Part D plan are able to speak with someone in their primary language less than 37% of the time.
Customer service representatives lack appropriate training or resources to successfully connect non-English speaking callers with someone who can speak their language.
Written materials were not made available to callers in their native languages despite the federal government’s requirement that these materials be provided by the plan sponsors.
The survey was conducted by volunteers from community-based agencies throughout the state, who placed a total of 417 telephone calls in eleven of the thirteen most common non-English languages spoken by dual eligibles in California. Dual eligibles, those who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid, rely on an average of ten more prescriptions than other elderly and disabled Medicare beneficiaries. As the sickest and poorest group of Medicare beneficiaries, they are the least likely to have the resources to navigate the complex Medicare Part D system.

“Our research reveals that there is a significant difference in the ability of non-English speaking beneficiaries to call their prescription drug plan and receive information in their language than for all other beneficiaries,” Kendra Scalia, the author of the study says. “The failure of prescription drug plans to meet their basic obligations to limited English proficient individuals is appalling,” said Katharine Hsiao, Staff Attorney at the National Senior Citizens Law Center. “Because 30 percent of California’s low-income Medicare Part D population is limited English proficient, it is critical that plans take immediate steps to meet their obligations.” She continued, “CMS, the federal agency that oversees Medicare Part D, must hold plans accountable for failing to meet the needs of this population.”

The National Senior Citizens Law Center (NSCLC) advocates nationwide for the independence and well-being of low-income elderly people and others eligible for Medicaid, Medicare and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). For further information on Medicare Part D or for a copy of the report, see

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