It shouldn't be this way, but every year between 15 October and 7 December, Americans who use Medicare for their health coverage, most of whom are 65 and older, can change their coverage for the coming year during the “open enrollment” period.
That sounds accommodating but the real reason is not for insureds' benefit; it is for insurers and big pharma. Not to mention that it has always been a teeth-grinding, boring task each year to compare current coverage to what is available for the next year, but at least it was close to accurate.
Not so this year.
It has never been a good idea to just go with the coverage you've got because insurers are allowed to and may have:
• Raised premiums
• Raised deductibles
• Raised co-pays
• Changed the prices of drugs you use
• Removed some of those drugs from the formulary
• Limited the size of prescriptions
To make it even more adventurous, they might also move drugs around among the four “tiers” which can change the price too.
(There is no law against reducing the prices of drugs. Someone tell me why it is that I doubt that would happen.)
When the new Medicare materials arrived in the mail from the federal government this year, I was appalled to see that there are 28 Part D (prescription drug) plans available in my area for 2020. Count them: 28.
(Am I the only person who knows that too many choices is no choice at all?)
There are also just as many Medicare Advantage programs in case I want to switch from traditional Medicare. No thank you.
What this means is that I needed to look at each of the 28 drug plans on Medicare's website, figure out the cost of each and compare them to my current plan.
The process of finding a reasonably priced plan is so tedious it could make you cry. But this year is worse than previous ones. Truly awful, I would call it, because it turns out the Medicare website is broken this year. ProPublica reports:
”The federal government recently redesigned a digital tool that helps seniors navigate complicated Medicare choices, but consumer advocates say it’s malfunctioning with alarming frequency, offering inaccurate cost estimates and creating chaos in some states during the open enrollment period.”
Inaccurate? You want inaccurate? How about $45,000 per month for an inhaler? Yes, I really meant to put all those zeroes on the price.
(I spoke about this recentlyi on The Alex and Ronni Show. If you really care about additional details, you can view the show here.)
No matter which plans I tested, the same price came up for the inhaler. $45,000.
Well, that's just a joke, isn't it. Even if it were correct. But I didn't believe all 28 providers would just happen to assign an identical price. Okay, I only checked six or eight plans before I sought outside help. But still.
It took several days of calling around to Medicare, insurers and others – all useless - until I found a savior, an extremely well-informed woman who told me to change the number of doses per month on the Medicare website chart from 60 to 1, and explained what Medicare had got wrong:
The Medicare website assumed that each dose, two-a-day in my case, was a separate inhaler so that according to them, I needed 60 inhalers a month instead of one inhaler containing 60 doses.
Whew! But why didn't the customer service representatives know this when I telephoned?
ProPubica goes on to report that Nebraska shut down a Medicare network of 350 volunteer telephone helpers because the website is so problematic. One insurer sent a warning email to insurance brokers nationwide because Medicare's online tool was producing too many errors, reports ProPublica, and
”Minnesota’s Association of Area Agencies on Aging said in a news release on Nov. 14 that the Medicare Plan Finder 'continues to produce flawed results,' including inaccurate premium estimates, incorrect prescription drug costs and inaccurate costs with extra help subsidies.”
Medicare told ProPublica that they tested the redesigned site before its launch. Really?!?
AARP has also written about the mistakes on the Medicare website. Their advice is to call the insurer to double-check the website prices, drug availability and
”For people who have already picked a plan and thought they were finished with open enrollment, advocates say they too should go back, call the plan they have selected and make sure the prices and other information on the website were correct.”
Been there, done that and all I got was, “If that's the price on the website, that's the price.”
I'm sorry that I have no other suggestions for you.
Being old is hard enough. Reading pages and pages of fine print online, mostly numbers, while trying to sort out what one's healthcare will cost in the coming year and then having to wonder if it is accurate is really unkind – even nasty.
The holiday got in my way last week and I'm late posting this story. Open enrollment is in effect only through next Saturday, but that still leaves time to double-check your plan selection for 2020.
I'm going to give the insurer I selected for next year another call and then hold my breath until January to see if I am charged $90-something for that inhaler instead of $45,000.
You should probably do that too – the phone call, I mean, not hold your breath. Good luck.