Sunday, December 12, 2004

We're from Medicare and We're Here to Help You

The NY Times reported US Government Accountability Office found that about 30% of callers to a help number for Medicare patients got wrong answers to questions about Medicare's new drug benefit, while 10% got no answers at all. For example, in response to a question about whether Medicare would pay for a motorized wheel-chair, the help line operator responded that it would depend on whether the wheel-chair would fit in the patient's car trunk. The real answer was that the decision would depend on the patient's trunk strength, that is, upper body strength. Oops.
It turns out that the help-line is not actually run by Medicare, but is out-sourced to Pearson Government Solutions, a subsidiary of Pearson PLC, a corporation based in London that publishes the Financial Times, and Penguin Books. A Pearson spokesperson said the government told him not to answer questions from the press.


Pogo said...
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Kevin C. Fleming said...

"A Pearson spokesperson said the government told him not to answer questions from the press."

I wonder whether the government told them not to answer questions from the public, either. At least, not correctly.

While incompetence can be found in every sphere of human interaction, the ineptness of the government agency is particularly glaring. By design, government services are presumed to be 'selfless', in contrast to the selfish interest of business. Yet from who do you receive more help in these encounters: the people at the counter in the bread store, or the people at the DMV?

The DMV is impersonal and tedious precisley because the government employee looks at the public as an intrusion rather than as a customer. That is, incentives matter, and the incentives for government employees are to satisfy their true customer: the bureaucracy. The public is a side-effort only. And since the government does not go out of business for providing bad service, bad service propogates.