Now that I am, as of last Saturday, a card-carrying Medicare member, I’ve discovered first hand the pain of selecting a prescription drug program (Part D). There are so many choices, with so many differences that the only solution was to create a spreadsheet. I used these criteria:
- A plan that can go with me when I move to Maine in two months. That reduced the number of choices by more than half.
- No deductible. After comparing the prices of a random number of drugs within a sampling of plans, it made no sense to accept a deductible. In some cases, the co-pay was higher in plans with a deductible than without.
- Monthly premiums in New York and in Maine. The New York cost was minimally important since I soon won’t be here. The biggest difference in premiums was only $7.00 more in one Maine plan.
- Monthly co-pay for the one prescription drug I use which varied by as much as 50 percent.
- How much of the standard formulary (drugs covered) the plan includes. Since I have no idea what I may need in the future, I chose 100 percent.
The Medicare Part D website is badly designed and hard to use. Depending on which of the variety of paths you use to follow to the same information, different answers appear. In one instance, I got a list of 47 plans. When I approached it from another starting point, I was told no plans were available.
But if you remain calm and accept that it will take a lot of trial and error to find answers, you can get through the labyrinth without too much hair-pulling. I spent about five or six hours over two days before I completed my spreadsheet.
In the end, I found four plans that met my criteria and were reasonably priced, and I enrolled in the least expensive. In the first year, including both the monthly premiums and co-pays, I will save 50 percent of the full retail price of the drug I use. Not bad. And, I will not get anywhere near the infamous “doughnut hole” where no drugs are covered until you’ve anted up $3100 out of pocket.
The relative ease with which I signed up is due to the simplicity of my current drug needs and because wanting a plan that is in place in both New York and Maine reduced the number of available plans. It would be a nightmare for anyone who takes several drugs and there is no recourse but to plow through the plans, drugs, deductibles, premiums, prices, approved pharmacies, etc. one item at a time.
What I kept thinking through my minor ordeal was how much simpler it would be if we had universal healthcare.