Boston - As helpful as technology can be, insurers are not immune to technology glitches. One such case, as reported by The Boston Globe, hit Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. The Boston-based insurer found itself sending out automated phone calls to Massachusetts senior citizens with Medicare drug benefits, asking them to repay up to $1,400 because the monthly premium automatic deduction from their Social Security checks failed to work.In March, The Tampa Tribune reported that hundreds of thousands of seniors received inaccurate Social Security payments because of problems with Medicare Part D drug coverage premiums, according to The Boston Globe. Most were overpaid because the premiums were not being deducted. Others received accidental refunds that averaged $215 and were asked to return the money.

Wellpoint Inc., a national healthcare company that recently merged with Anthem Inc., is contacting the 5,200 affected members of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts spokesman told The Boston Globe. Wellpoint administers Blue MedicareRx, which is the Blue Cross stand-alone Medicare drug plan in Massachusetts.

"It's conceivable that members could owe 12 months of premiums," Chris Murphy, a Blue Cross spokesman tells The Boston Globe. "If anybody wants to pay the amount due immediately, that's fine, but we'll also let people pay monthly increments through the first quarter of 2007."

Other seniors with drug coverage through other insurers are also affected--as 1,000 members of Tufts Health Plan Inc.'s Medicare Preferred plan could also have been affected by the Medicare error. Catherine Grant, a Tufts spokeswoman, tells The Boston Globe the Waltham, Mass.-based insurer is still waiting for a list of names from the agency. Tufts' Medicare Preferred plan has 55,000 members in Massachusetts.

Another affected insurer, Wellesley, Mass.-based Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Inc. noticed in July that premiums were not being properly deducted for members in its First Seniority Medicare Advantage plan, according to a Harvard Pilgrim spokesperson. The problem affected as many as 500 out of 34,000 members, the insurer told The Boston Globe.

Harvard Pilgrim reports its billing problems have been resolved for members who enrolled prior to August 1, 2006, and the plan is checking to ensure that those who enrolled later are now receiving Social Security checks with the proper deductions.

"We're double-checking to make sure that later enrollees don't have billing problems," Sharon Torgerson of Harvard Pilgrim tells The Boston Globe.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said it sent letters Oct. 31 to seniors who will see changes in their November Social Security payments, The Boston Globe reports.

"The vast majority of these issues have been resolved," Roseanne Pawele , a spokeswoman for CMS, tells The Boston Globe. "At no time was anybody's drug coverage compromised by these billing glitches."

But Pawelec reports that, according to the government's accounting, as many as 50,000 people nationwide may still have a problem.

Source: Globe Newspaper Co.


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