[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.]
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.]