But some consumer advocates said the changes reflect a subtle bias toward private plans on the part of the Trump administration.
The annual open enrollment for Medicare Advantage and Medicare prescription plans starts
"We always felt it's important that every American we serve have a good customer experience," Verma said. But some consumer groups said the new online features seem to portray Medicare Advantage plans more favorably than original Medicare.
More than 21 million beneficiaries — about 36 percent — are already in private Medicare Advantage plans, a growing share of the program. In exchange for limits on choice of doctors and hospitals, the private plans can offer lower out-of-pocket costs and added benefits. This year, some plans will start providing limited assistance to help keep frail seniors safe in their own homes instead of nursing homes.
Lipschutz pointed to the new five-point online questionnaire as potentially problematic. He said it overlooks some of the limitations of Medicare Advantage as well as reasons why seniors would want original Medicare.
Original Medicare has gaps in coverage and many beneficiaries buy supplemental "Medigap" polices to cover those, along with a private "Part D" prescription plan. For people in poor health, original Medicare preserves the broadest choice of hospitals and doctors. Coupled with a Medigap policy and a prescription plan, it can result in lower out-of-pocket costs for some people dealing with serious health conditions.
Those variables can go beyond the capacity of a quick online questionnaire.
Medicare Administrator Verma said the government is not trying to put its thumb on the scale. "We are not steering any Medicare beneficiary anywhere," she said.
Medicare has had long tug-of-war over whether the program should be run entirely by the government or administered by private insurers.