Comparing Part D Plans – A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Medicare.gov

This article is re-posted (with revised dates and updated information) from a previous blog post in 2013.

Comparing Part D plans is an essential task for those on Medicare. Part D is the part of Medicare that covers prescription medications, and frankly, is often the most confusing and complex part of Medicare. It can also be the most expensive, particularly if you have chosen the “wrong” Part D plan.

Part D has an annual enrollment period (contrary to Medicare Supplement plans, which do not). This year, the Part D annual enrollment period, or AEP, runs from October 15 through December 7. Any changes made to your coverage during this time period will take effect on 1/1/16.

So, why do you have to compare plans each year? Can you not just choose a plan and stay with it? Yes, you certainly can stick with the plan that you have now. If you take no action during AEP, your plan will carry you into the next year (as long as it is not being discontinued). But, this is not always a wise strategy. Many things about the plans change from year to year.

Each year, insurance companies have to have their plan outlines/designs approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Medicare/CMS sets forth minimum guidelines that they must maintain, but they can expand on those as they see fit. Typically, premiums, deductibles and co-pays on each plan change each year. Also, there is the variable of your actual medications, which may have changed and may make a different plan a better option.

So, how to do you compare the Part D plans. Fortunately, Medicare has put all of the plan information on their website (2016 information will be available around 10/1/15). However, the site is not always very user-friendly. Here are the steps to follow to compare the Part D plans:

  1. Point your web browser to http://medicare.gov.
  2. Click the green button named “Find health and drug plans” (mid-way down, left hand side).
  3. Enter your zip code and click “Find plans”. You may be prompted to enter your county (if your zip code spans multiple counties) – if so, select your county and click “Continue”.
  4. Answer the next two questions and click “Continue”.
  5. This will take you to the drug entry screen. You should enter your medication names exactly as they are listed on the label (in other words, don’t list the brand name if you take a generic equivalent). Then, select the dosage and frequency when prompted. Once you have entered them all, select “My Drug List is Complete” (below the drug names).
  6. Next, select your preferred pharmacy. This is important as co-pays etc can vary on some plans from one pharmacy to the next. Choose the pharmacy that you use now or would most likely use and click “Add Pharmacy” below the pharmacy name. Then, click “Continue to plan results” at the bottom of the screen.
  7. Under “Summary of search results”, select ONLY the checkbox beside “Prescription Drug Plans”. Then, click “Continue to plan results”.
  8. This brings up all the plans for your area and the results are sorted by “lowest estimated annual retail drug costs”. In other words, the plans are listed in order of which plan would cost the least to you over the course of an entire year, taking into account premiums, deductibles, and co-pays for your specific medications (that you entered).

This is truly the best way to compare Part D plans. You can even sign up for the plan you want right there on the Medicare website, or you can get information about contacting to company to enroll. It is a little cumbersome and time-consuming, but the savings that can result are significant. Each year for the last 10 years, I have had a client save $2000+ on Part D costs simply by changing plans to one that fits their medication profile better.

We perform the Part D comparisons at no cost for our Medicare clients, as most independent agencies do (or should do). If you want more information or have questions, please contact me online or call us at 877.506.3378.

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