You’re sifting through the mail – the usual store flyers, catalogs and postcard reminders – and you come to a thick official-looking envelope. You open it and find a letter asking you to complete a health care survey.

That thick envelope contains a really important opportunity – the chance to make your voice heard.

So many surveys – who’s sending these?

You’ll get most surveys related to Medicare from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). That’s the federal organization that keeps tabs on how Medicare plans around the country are – or are not – working.

You should feel like you can give honest responses. All of the surveys go through an outside survey group to protect your identity. Your answers are completely confidential. That’s why this is such a great opportunity – you get to say what you think without worrying about being identified by your health insurance plan, clinic or hospital.

Why surveys are good for your health

Most health plans and care systems use the survey results for planning. It helps them know where they can improve and make health care better. That includes how easy it is to get the care you need, what the care is like, how much the care costs and the quality of their customer service – everything that goes into making a health plan work.

So if you answer honestly, they’ll pick up on what’s great. And they’ll know what’s not so great. And health plans have huge incentives to get better.

Here’s why:

Star ratings

Every Medicare plan, including dual eligible Medicare and Medicaid plans like Minnesota Senior Health Options (MSHO), has a star rating (from one to five) that shows how well they performed that year. Surveys are one factor that contribute to those ratings.

Star ratings are posted on the Medicare website so everyone can see which plans are the highest rated. When you’re choosing a plan, those star ratings come in handy because they can help you see what plans are rated the highest (five stars).

And health plans want their star ratings high. It means they’re doing the best they can do for their members. So they’ll work hard to improve to get those great survey results.

Power in numbers

Here’s the catch. If not enough people respond to the surveys, Medicare won’t post the results. So there’s another reason why your responses make a difference.

A little time — a big impact

When you complete a survey, you’re doing a great thing for yourself and health care. Surveys are a small task on your to-do list, but they add up to a big to-do list for health care groups and policymakers. And it’s all geared at making things better. So, when you make a point of answering those questions, we’ll all have you to thank when things get better.

How do you know it’s a REAL survey?

We all get a lot of junk mail. So how can you tell if the survey you get is the real deal? There are also certain times of the year when you’ll get the surveys, like March through July or after you’ve visited the clinic or hospital. So if you get a survey that’s not on these timelines, you might want to call and ask about it before you complete the questions.