Projects

Improving Beneficiaries’ Medicare Understanding

How can Medicare better communicate with Americans about their health care?

Partners & Funders

A person writes a note on a print-out depicting an organization's different communication channels.

The Project

Up to four times a year, more than 35 million Americans are sent a Medicare Summary Notice, updating them on their Medicare claims, bills, and available services. PPL’s founders partnered with the federal agency that manages Medicare to redesign this communication to empower Americans to better understand their health care.

The Outcome

After conducting research and co-design with beneficiaries in cities and towns across America, we helped develop a more accessible, engaging, and informative Medicare Summary Notice. The new document incorporates a ‘dashboard’ with critical information in one spot, a checklist for free preventive care, features to fight fraud and claim errors, an easy appeals form, and other beneficiary-friendly features.

Improving Beneficiaries’ Medicare Understanding

A person writes a note on a print-out depicting an organization's different communication channels.
How can Medicare better communicate with Americans about their health care?

Partners & Funders

The Project

Up to four times a year, more than 35 million Americans are sent a Medicare Summary Notice, updating them on their Medicare claims, bills, and available services. PPL’s founders partnered with the federal agency that manages Medicare to redesign this communication to empower Americans to better understand their health care.

The Outcome

After conducting research and co-design with beneficiaries in cities and towns across America, we helped develop a more accessible, engaging, and informative Medicare Summary Notice. The new document incorporates a ‘dashboard’ with critical information in one spot, a checklist for free preventive care, features to fight fraud and claim errors, an easy appeals form, and other beneficiary-friendly features.

Project Background

In 2010, the firms of PPL founders David Gibson, Chelsea Mauldin, and the late Sylvia Harris led a human-centered evaluation of Medicare communications. Their preliminary goal was to identify ways to improve Medicare beneficiaries’ engagement and informed decision-making during the enrollment process, with a special focus on how to help beneficiaries compare and choose Part C and Part D coverage.

Several old Medicare communications channels, including pamphlets, guides, and forms are laid out with a sticky note reading "Stockpiles of out of date materials not used."
Four individuals in an office stand around a large poster visualizing the experience of a research participant.
A stack of old Medicare guides with one on top open to a page of drugs covered by insurance.

We conducted an audit of existing communication materials and identified content and usability best practices to inform our recommendations. 

What We Found

The project team carried out in-depth interviews with leadership at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and external subject-matter experts and performed an extensive review of related academic literature. In addition, the team conducted ethnographic research with a number of Medicare beneficiaries around their enrollment experiences. 
 
The team found that CMS communications materials looked professional, but not consistent; that it was easy for beneficiaries to get lost in the Medicare process; that the complex and punishing process undermined beneficiary engagement, confidence, and rational choice; and finally, that no agency-wide system existed to coordinate messaging, branding, and/or user experience.
 
In the short term, recommendations included to build a Medicare choice diagram and a choice checklist. Long-term recommendations for CMS were to conduct user-experience research to improve communications, to implement consistent brand standards, to improve data systems, and to strengthen external partnerships.

During workshops, the project team walked partners through beneficiaries’ experiences with the plethora of digital, print, and third-party resources. 

A group of individuals in an office look at large posters on a wall visualizing research findings. One person reaches out to point at a particular piece of information.
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Hours of user interviews

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Rounds of design research conducted

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Research locations nationwide

What We Designed

CMS subsequently engaged PPL’s founders to participate in a redesign the Medicare Summary Notice, the quarterly communication sent to more than 35 million ‘Original Medicare’ beneficiaries across the country.

Working with research firm KRC Associates, the team participated in more than 160 hours of user interviews in 15 cities and towns nationwide, over five rounds of design research, testing new materials each round. 

Based on research and prototype testing, PPL’s founders helped to create a simpler and more navigable communication tool that included user-friendly messaging, language, and graphics, aimed at improving functional factors (choice-making) and experiential factors (ease, trust, reward). 

Our final design for the Medicare Summary Notice incorporates a dashboard with critical information in one spot, a checklist for free preventive care, an easy appeals form, and other beneficiary-friendly features. This new health claims document helps combat billing fraud, while also better engaging and informing Americans about their Medicare benefits. 

How Did the Medicare Summary Notice Change?

Our design for a clearer and more navigable communication tool are featured in this overview of changes to the Medicare Summary Notice. PDF courtesy of CMS. 

Project Implementation

The redesigned Medicare Summary Notice won a 2012 ClearMark Award of Distinction from the Center for Plain Language and began rolling out to the public in mid 2013.

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