Medicare Advantage and Prescription Drug Plan CAHPS® Survey


Frequently Asked Questions

What are the requirements for becoming an approved MA & PDP CAHPS Survey vendor?

To be considered for approval as an MA & PDP CAHPS Survey vendor, organizations must meet the Minimum Business Requirements. These requirements can be found on the MA & PDP CAHPS Survey Web site at by clicking on the left side Business Requirements navigation button.


When may survey vendors submit participation requests for MA & PDP CAHPS Survey administration?

Survey vendor participation is closed for 2018 survey administration period. Please monitor the MA & PDP CAHPS Survey Web site for updates and information regarding the next vendor participation announcement, which is anticipated to open early to late summer 2018.


What is involved in executing a DUA with CMS for the MA & PDP CAHPS Survey?

Survey vendors that participate in the MA & PDP CAHPS Survey must execute a Data Use Agreement (DUA) with CMS to permit survey vendor access to the sample files. Survey vendors are responsible for:

  • Ensuring the DUA is updated in a timely manner any time there is a change in contact information and that all contact information is accurate
  • Extending current DUAs before their expiration date if necessary. CMS will not approve new DUAs if a survey vendor’s organization has any DUAs which are expired.
  • Updating current DUAs to include the 2018 survey administration data
  • Submitting a DUA Addendum for each subcontractor that views beneficiary-level data (e.g., name, address, telephone number)

For more information, please visit the CMS DUA Web Site:


Are Medicare-Medicaid Plans (MMPs) required to participate in the MA & PDP CAHPS Survey?

Beginning in 2015, CMS required all Medicare-Medicaid Plans (MMPs) with at least 600 enrollees as of July of the previous year to contract with an approved MA & PDP CAHPS Survey vendor to collect and report MA & PDP CAHPS Survey data. Collection of survey data follows a specific data collection timeline and protocol established by CMS.


What languages are available for MA & PDP CAHPS Survey administration?

The MA & PDP CAHPS Survey is administered in English, Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese. The Chinese translation of the survey is appropriate for Cantonese and Mandarin speakers.


Who will draw the sample?

CMS will draw the sample.


What will be the data collection protocol and timeline for the 2018 Medicare CAHPS Survey?

The 2018 Medicare CAHPS Survey will be collected by mail with phone follow-up of non-respondents (referred to as a mixed mode approach).

The data collection schedule is included in the MA & PDP CAHPS Survey Quality Assurance Protocols & Technical Specifications V8.0 and is available to view and download from the Quality Assurance page of the MA & PDP CAHPS Web site.


What is the mail protocol for the 2018 MA & PDP CAHPS Survey?

The mail component of the data collection protocol for the 2018 MA & PDP CAHPS Survey will include mailing of a pre-notification letter, initial survey and cover letter, and second-mailing survey and cover letter (when appropriate). The mail component of data collection does not include the mailing of a reminder letter, reminder postcard, or thank you card. Survey vendors will not be permitted to mail post cards in lieu of mailing the pre-notification letter or the survey cover letters.


What is the telephone protocol for the 2018 MA & PDP CAHPS Survey?

The telephone component of the data collection protocol for the 2018 MA & PDP CAHPS Survey will include telephone follow up with non-respondents of the mail survey component using a CATI system of the vendor’s choosing. Survey vendors must attempt to reach every beneficiary in the sample. Repeated attempts must be made until the beneficiary is contacted, found ineligible, or five attempts have been made over at least a 21-calendar day period. After five attempts to contact the beneficiary by telephone have been made, no further attempts are to be made.


How will survey vendors obtain the survey materials?

The MA & PDP CAHPS Survey Project Team will provide Word versions of the survey materials to approved vendors via the Technical Assistance email. CMS will also post PDF versions of the survey materials on the MA & PDP CAHPS Survey Web site in English, Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese for the 2018 data collection (2017 reference year).


Are supplemental questions allowed for MA & PDP CAHPS Survey administration? If so, are there any restrictions on the questions?

Supplemental questions are allowed for MA & PDP CAHPS Survey administration. Contracts are allowed a maximum of 12 supplemental questions each year. Contracts submit supplemental items to CMS for review via their authorized survey vendors.

Additional information regarding supplemental items for 2018 MA & PDP CAHPS Survey administration, including instructions for submitting questions for review and approval, is available on pages 31-33 and in Appendix O of the Quality Assurance Protocols & Technical Specifications V8.0 manual. The manual can be found on the MA & PDP CAHPS Web site by clicking the Quality Assurance navigation button located on the left side of the Web site.

As a resource for possible supplemental questions, CMS suggests the use of the Supplemental Items for the Adult Health Plan Questionnaires posted on the AHRQ Web site. These items have been thoroughly tested; however, please note that some of the items may not meet the protocols for MA & PDP CAHPS Survey supplemental items.


Will the surveys be required to be printed in color?

Survey vendors have the option to print the surveys in black and white with a highlight color. The data collection protocol for the 2018 MA & PDP CAHPS Survey does not require the surveys to be printed in color.


How will survey vendors be paid?

MA and PDP contracts will contract directly with approved MA & PDP CAHPS Survey vendors.


How are survey data edited and cleaned during data analysis by CMS?

A forward-cleaning approach is used for editing and cleaning survey data. This approach uses responses to the “screener” (or gate) items to control how subsequent items within the questionnaire are treated analytically, such as setting responses to a missing value or retaining the original response. Under this forward-cleaning approach, unanswered screener items are not updated or back-filled based on responses to subsequent items.

Data are cleaned using the following forward-cleaning conventions and guidelines:

  • Survey items that contain multiple responses (double-grid) when only one response is allowed are set to “M – Missing”
  • If a screener question is blank, but there are data in the dependent questions, those data are used in analysis and the screener is recorded as “M – Missing
  • If the response to a screener question is valid, but the respondent violates the skip instruction by answering dependent questions that should have been skipped, the response to the screener question is retained and the responses for the dependent questions are set to “M – Missing”
  • Embedded screener questions (a skip pattern within a skip pattern) are treated in the same way as a primary screener question. The embedded skip pattern is evaluated first, followed by the primary skip pattern. Special missing value codes are assigned by CMS to recoded questionnaire variables to indicate the type of missing data.


Are there any restrictions/limitations on using Medicare CAHPS to survey Medicare beneficiaries at other time points in the year outside the range of the official Medicare CAHPS data collection cycle? If so, what are those restrictions likely to be?

CMS strongly encourages contracts and survey vendors NOT to ask Medicare beneficiaries any MA & PDP CAHPS Survey questions four weeks prior to, during and four weeks after the MA & PDP CAHPS Survey administration period (from February 1, 2018 to June 30, 2018). Other CMS surveys are exempt from this guidance. Contracts should take respondent burden and response rates into account when considering the timing of any additional data collection efforts.


Are survey vendors allowed to conduct analysis of the MA & PDP CAHPS Survey data?

Survey vendors may provide contracts with preliminary survey results. When providing contracts with preliminary survey results, survey vendors must communicate to contracts that the survey vendor scores are not the official CMS scores. In addition, no data may be appended to the sample file without advance written permission of CMS. All reports vendors provide to contracts (whether paper or electronic format) must include a statement that vendor results are unofficial and are for the contract’s internal quality improvement purposes only. Intervention or follow-up with low scoring individuals is not permitted.

As detailed in the CMS Data Use Agreement, no data involving cells, including cross-tabulated cells, with sample sizes less than 11 may be shared with contracts under any circumstances. Failure to adhere to the CMS Data Use Agreement violates requirements of the Privacy Act, the Privacy Rule and CMS data release policies, and may be considered a breach or violation of data safeguarding. Please visit to learn more about CMS privacy policies and data safeguarding.

Note: These instructions prohibit display counts of 1-10 or any numbers that allow the exact inference of a count of 1-10.


Why might CMS analysis of the survey data differ from the survey vendor’s analysis?

CMS-calculated results are official results. Every year some plans inquire about discrepancies between vendor and CMS results. Historically, discrepancies are due to vendor errors including vendor misapplication of forward-cleaning rules, vendor top-box scoring rather than linear mean scoring, and vendor errors in the determination of eligible surveys. Vendors must remind plans that vendor results are unofficial and for internal quality improvement purposes.


Who will submit the CAHPS data to NCQA and when?

CMS will provide the MA CAHPS survey data files to NCQA with calculated scores for accreditation. NCQA uses a different scoring methodology from CMS in calculating results.


When are MA & PDP CAHPS Survey Reports available each year?

The MA & PDP CAHPS Survey Plan Preview Reports are generally delivered to the contract’s Medicare Compliance Officer in August of each year by email.

The MA & PDP CAHPS Survey Detailed Plan Reports are generally delivered to the contract’s Medicare Compliance Officer in late fall of each year by mail.


Who can I contact with questions about my CAHPS scores and MA & PDP CAHPS Star Ratings?

Questions regarding your MA & PDP CAHPS scores should be directed to

Questions regarding Part C and D Star Ratings calculations should be directed to


This page was last modified on 10/27/2017