Updated: May 3, 2013 12:14PM
Originally published: November 13, 2006
It’s baaack! Medicare Part D is about to make headlines again as the new open enrollment season starts Wednesday and runs through Dec. 31. Even the millions of seniors who already signed up for a plan should take time to compare plans and figure out whether they should switch to get a better deal.
This year that task will only take a few minutes, and it will be much easier to compare plans to find the one that covers your prescriptions and costs the least. That’s because the government has completely revamped its Medicare.gov Web site to make the process simple and painless. Just remember: All seniors age 65 should sign up for Medicare Part D -- the prescription drug program, even if you don’t take any prescription drugs right now.
A few exceptions: If you are still working and have prescription benefits, or if you are a retiree and have been notified that you have similar “creditable” coverage, you don’t have to sign up for Part D now. If your coverage ends, you can sign up later without penalty. Veterans who get prescriptions from the VA do not need to sign up for Part D, but vets might need Part D for those drugs that the VA doesn’t cover.
Public plan, private provider
While Part D is a government-designed program, it is provided by private insurance companies, which compete to offer the most comprehensive coverage at the lowest cost. Many insurance companies offer different structures for dealing with monthly premiums, co-payments, and the “donut hole” gap. In fact, you could go crazy trying to figure out which is the best plan for you -- the one that will cost you the least, cover all your drugs, and is accepted by your local pharmacy. But don’t despair. The new Medicare “PlanFinder” tool at www.Medicare.gov makes quick work of all these comparisons.
Here’s how to use it:
Make sure you have a list of all your prescriptions and dosages, and your Medicare number if you have one. Then sit down at a computer and go directly to www.Medicare.gov. Click on the first option, “Compare Medicare Prescription Drug Plans.” On the next screen, click on the little gray box that says “Find and Compare Plans.” You can then choose between a general search using your prescriptions or a personalized search, based on your Medicare claim number. You’ll get to the same place either way.
You must provide your ZIP code to sort for plans with pharmacies in your area.
Then you’ll be asked to enter your prescriptions, one by one, including accurate dosages. The tool actually lists the most common drugs and dosages, and helps you find your drug alphabetically. As you build your list of prescriptions, you’ll also see generic equivalents. You can save this list with a password in case you want to finish later.
Then you’re ready for the BIG CLICK: Compare Plans! Within seconds you’ll see a listing of plans, with the lowest cost plans listed first.
Then you must take two more steps. Instead of just picking the lowest cost plan, use the tool on this page to compare two or three plans.
As you compare, look at the pharmacies listed. Then you must click twice more, because the best feature of the PlanFinder is buried under a little tab at the top of each plan description on the comparison page.
Be sure to click on “More Information” and then on “View Plan Details.” Then, scroll down to the bottom of the page, and you’ll see a bar chart showing you how much you’ll pay every month. This is very important, because some plans may start out with an inexpensive monthly cost -- and then you’ll find your expenditures jumping dramatically when you hit that uncovered portion called the “donut hole.”
You’d probably prefer a plan that promises level payments, making it easier to budget. So be sure to use the bar chart to compare monthly out-of-pocket costs. It is the most useful part of the plan finder.
You’re ready to sign up nowNow you’re ready to sign up. Instructions on how to contact each plan are right on your screen. Don’t worry if you aren’t familiar with the name of the plan provider. They’ve all been approved by Medicare. And your pharmacy has agreed to work with them. You’re getting your own meds from your own pharmacy -- and now you know that you’re getting them at the lowest possible cost. And that’s The Savage Truth.
Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser. Distributed by Creators Syndicate.