Health beat: Medicare measures quality in the stars

  • Article by: WARREN WOLFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 4, 2011 - 6:05 AM

Medicare enrollees trying to pick a drug plan during open enrollment, which ends Dec. 7, can look at total estimated costs.

Or they can look to the stars.

For the second year, Medicare has assessed each health plan and rated them with stars -- five is best, one is worst.

Plans are rated on 53 measures. Those with three or more stars will get bonus payments of 3 to 5 percent from Medicare in an effort to encourage quality. Five-star plans may be sold after open enrollment ends.

On average, Minnesota's 33 stand-alone drug plans scored 2.96 stars, the same as the national figure. The standout is Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, with two of the 16 plans nationally that earned five stars.

But Minnesota's 23 Medicare Advantage plans, which combine drug coverage with medical benefits, averaged 4.3 stars, well above the 3.4 stars nationally. All 17 plans offered by UCare, Medica and HealthPartners earned 4.5 stars.

Minnesota has 775,000 Medicare beneficiaries. About 250,000 are in Advantage plans and 280,000 are in stand-alone plans. Former employers, including the military, cover 164,000, leaving 80,000 beneficiaries with no drug coverage.

So far, calls to the state-sponsored Minnesota LinkAge Line have been lighter than usual, said Jean Wood, executive director of the sponsoring Minnesota Board on Aging.

The only way to compare costs and drug coverage among the plans is with a computer tool at, or to call Medicare or the LinkAge Line.

For help or information:

•Senior LinkAge Line: 1-800-333-2433 for help comparing or enrolling in plans, and help getting low-income subsidy. Weekdays 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

•Minnesota Health Care Choices: Published by the Board on Aging, describes all Medicare health and drug plans. Online at, or call Senior LinkAge Line for a free copy.

•Medicare: 1-800-633-4227 (TTY/TDD 1-877-486-2048) 24 hours a day. • 612-673-7253

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