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Annual Medicare Part D Sign Up

[WHERE ELDERS BLOG UPDATE: If you haven't visited this feature in a few days, there a some new photos, including one from a blog reader who does not blog. That's a good idea I hadn't thought of and there are many we come to know through their comments. So you non-blogging elders too are welcome to send in your photos.]

category_bug_journal2.gif It’s that time of year again. In just a month, on 15 November, the six-week enrollment period for 2008 Medicare Part D – the prescription drug coverage – opens. Our annual slog through choosing among dozens of plans is upon us.

As last year, there are too many plans with too many conflicting details, but the good news is the Medicare website has dramatically improved the process and comparison charts.

I was furious to find that my current insurer has raised the monthly premium by 24 percent for next year and although the cost of my drug is being raised only a few pennies, I determined to find a plan to match my 2007 costs.

It was almost easy at the new Medicare Part D website to pull up the 60 plans available in my state that carry in their formulary the single drug I take. With various filters, they can be sorted by annual cost, approved pharmacies, size of deductible if any, etc. My one complaint is that comparison of only three plans at a time is possible. I would have liked at least ten.

Comparison will be easier this year even for people who take multiple drugs because one of the first steps in the improved website is to enter the name and dosage of each drug and the software filters the plans that cover them all. However, the unforgivable flaw in Part D is that no one can predict what new drug(s) their physician may prescribe in the coming year and if your plan doesn't cover the new drug(s), you're stuck with the full cost until the following year when you can choose another plan.

As improved as the Medicare website is, I still made a chart of all ten plans that met my personal requirements so I could compare in a single column each of the monthly premiums, the deductibles when there is one, the cost to me annually and per month. The last item can differ throughout the year depending on a deductible, so for anyone on a tight budget, that could be an important consideration.

The annual cost of the ten plans, including premiums and my co-pays, range from $530.40 to an astounding $1206. That most expensive plan costs $277.32 more a year than full price of the drug to my insurer and two other plans, while slightly cheaper, also cost more. What are they thinking? I crossed them off my chart first.

After visiting the websites of each of the remaining seven plans and my current provider for additional details and to search for limitations, I couldn’t find any differences except price. Even my pharmacy was included in each one, so I settled on the least expensive.

Assuming my drug requirements remain the same in 2008, I will save $104 over my 2007 costs, and if I buy the drug by mail, I can save an additional $50. I’m torn about giving up my pharmacy which is not one of the big chains. I’m thinking $50 a year may not unreasonable to support a locally owned business.

My drug doesn't cost enough that I reach the doughnut hole where full cost of the drug is borne by the insured until total out-of-pocket of $4050 is reached. If your drugs do push you into the doughnut hole, you must work that into your choice of provider.

This is still far too complicated and universal healthcare would save millions of hours of work and could require, like the Veterans Administration, price negotiation with pharmaceutical companies by the federal government.

Until then, the Medicare Part D website has done an admirable job of simplifying the selection process. And, you can register, list your drugs, get a list of providers in your state, mark your favorites and save all the information until enrollment time.

Enrollment for 2008 Part D does not open until 15 November but if you start now, it will be less painful than if you put it off until December. It works quite well, and you might, like me, save some money next year.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Pat Temiz begins the two-part saga of buying a home in Turkey in A Dönüm Will Do.]


Comments

Tell me about it….

My premium is going to go up 42%! At least the deductible didn’t go up but ten bucks. I don’t take a lot of medications and I have to get all the way to November before any benefits ever kick in for me. It will be the same next year if I stay with the same plan except I will pay an additional 42% a month increase for absolutely no additional benefits.

If you are reasonably healthy….they got you coming and going!

This reminder is a great public service. You point out one of the big flaws in the system, which is that if your prescriptions change during the year, you are stuck with your chosen plan until open enrollment. Another big problem is that even though Medicare has provided a very helpful online tool, many seniors don't feel comfortable using computers and end up paying more than they should because they picked a plan by the name of the vendor or other reasons not related to the actual cost. Sometimes they pay extra to get coverage through the doughnut hole even if they are not spending enough on medications to need that coverage.

I did some volunteer work at my local senior agency to help people pick plans using the online tool when the Part D first started. Even though I told the people I worked with that they should reassess every year during open enrollment, very few of them actually seem to be doing that. Once they pick a plan, they seem to be staying with it.

Medicare Part D does give a small benefit to most people, but it's needlessly complicated and hard for people to figure out. And of course, it's a big windfall to drug and insurance companies.

Sigh. I don't do that yet and prolly won't for a couple more years. Ohio has program for those over 60 that really saves money but I don't know how it works with Part D so I'm scared for when I go on Medicare. I guess all I can do is pray I stay healthy enough that I don't need expensive meds.

Man! It sounds like a nightmare and very confusing. You are obviously a bright woman and can understand the system. What about thick people? Do they fall through the cracks? Do they pay over the odds for everything because they just can't figure things out?

Thanks for the 'heads up', Ronni. A quick glance at the website showed that I have 32 Medicare Health Plans to choose from. I can quickly narrow that down, of course, but it just shows how complicated this whole mess is. It is also one of the reasons that we spend so much on health care with such poor results.

A single payer system would eliminate all of the hassle and cost involved. Ideology gets in the way of people demanding this system. Too bad.

I have sat through several sales presentations on behalf of "Part C" providers, which have helped me understand the basics of Medicare.

The "Part C" people are scary, though. Apparently their business niche is a little bribe from the current administration, with (I suspect) horrible service for the subscribers.

Like many others, I am staggered at the jaw-dropping complexity of this absurd system with its built-in traps and snares for consumers. How much less our government looks out for THEM than the apparently "deserving" insurance companies.

I am still on my husband's insurance plan and am not looking forward to the day when I have to do this. I take three pills, one patch, and three sprays. I'll reach that donut hole quickly.

Sigh. Unfortunately, I reached the donut hole by about the first of April, but the good news is that most my drugs are generics now. I carry Blue Cross supplement and I do get most my drugs mail order in 3 month supplies. With any kind of luck I will not reach catastrophic coverage! My oncologist and pulmonologist both think I should get those drugs out of Canada. I could save a few hundred per year, apparently. Thanks for researching this for all of us.

Ronnie, that's some really good advice and a helpful link for folks facing the Part D sign-up.

The only advice I'd add is that Medicare Part D was poorly drafted deliberately so that the insurance companies and the phamaceutical companies could make some quick bucks off us elders, and we should do something about fixing it.

Call, write, fax, and/or email your congress critters and urge them to fix what could be and should be a helpful benefit.

Congress ought to have to use these stupid plans they approve.

And the rest of us should get THEIR health care package.

Seems to me the key word in everything you said, Ronni, is -- unforgivable. The whole thing. What a mess! Why do we Americans put up with it?!?!?

Ack! It dawned on me when I read this that next year I have to understand it as I turn 65 in October of '08. I know it's probably good and all but why did it have to be so confusing? I do know the answer. They didn't want it to work as the people who put it in place don't believe in health insurance for everybody. Simple programs easy to understand would please too many people where the real goal from them is always to make a lot of money for corporations. Oh well... I did read this a bit more carefully than I usually have when it all seemed farther away...

And I thought the French system was complicated . . . .

also take a list of your meds to Walmart and see what they can do for you. Especially if you don't have any drug coverage. They charge $4 each for a lot of the types. Of course you are getting generics, but it is worth it. My husband is paying $20 more than what his co pay was for a month..for 3 month supply.

Thank you Wordtosser - what a good idea...we are going broke with all the deductions from Medicare and drup plans and now my husband has a Blue Cross supplement plan...sometimes I feel it would be easier to just die and decrease the surplus population by two "old farts." We are even paying monthly for our funerals called pre-need...Oh My God the money goes out as fast as it come in ...

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