Seniors Find Frustration With Medicare Drug Plans

Since open enrollment began two days ago, Medicare beneficiaries all over the country have been looking for new Medicare Part D plans. In fact, based on our analysis of recent Part D Reviews on MedicareDrugPlans.com, you’d think most enrollees were looking for new plans! Of the past 50 reviews on the site, this is what we found:

  • 44% had customer service issues, including unresponsive service, rude representatives, and billing and enrollment errors.
  • 42% complained about mail order issues, such as shipments taking too long, poor packaging and instructions, and poor website experiences.
  • 30% had problems prescribed drugs not being covered, inaccurate pricing, or coverage refusal after requesting authorization.

While we can’t say much about how to prevent dealing with mail order pharmacy or customer service issues, we know that you have the power to tackle formulary problems. Just so we’re clear, the way to find out which plans cover the drugs you need is at the government’s site, Medicare.gov – not on MedicareDrugPlans.com. MedicareDrugPlans.com serves as a listening board for what you need to look out for when you pick your plan, and is meant to be a supplement to the government’s site, so we recommend using both while selecting a plan. That way, you can make sure your drugs are covered and hopefully avoid any unforeseen issues.

Finally, it’s unfortunate that most of the reviews and ratings of Part D plans are negative ones. We want positive ones! We know that many Americans are benefiting from the plans. To whomever this applies: please help your peers by reviewing and rating the Part D plans that you like.

Good luck searching for the right plan!

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October 15th is just under two weeks ago, and while that date might not mean much to those not enrolled in Medicare, it marks the beginnings of open enrollment for Medicare’s Part D pharmacy benefits. That means that if you are looking for a new Medicare plan, you have until December 7th to do so. Even if you don’t think you need a new plan, you should check out what’s available, for a variety of reasons:

  1. Your plan may be discontinued, in which case, if you do not act, you might be transferred to a plan that is worse for you. There are 14% fewer plans in 2015 than there were in 2014.
  2. New plans exist, and they might be better than your current plan.
  3. Your prescription needs have changed. If you started taking a new medication in 2014 and it wasn’t covered by your current plan, or required you to spend more out-of-pocket than you expected, it might be time to switch to a plan that covers any new meds.

Our sister site, MedicareDrugPlans.com, can help you find a new plan. It compares premiums, deductibles, and even lets you know if drugs are covered during the coverage gap. More importantly, you can read reviews from enrollees who have actually signed up for these plans! Knowing the costs and coverage can only go so far, as these reviews tell us:

Alabama, TennesseeCigna-HealthSpring Rx –Reg12

“I have been trying to sign up for this plan but have a very hard time getting answers. Many of the telephone reps answer questions with “I don’t think so or I’m not sure” which is not helpful. They also require you to sign a statement that says “Humana has the right to change the program at any time if they notify the customer.” I have been told that this is just a formality but it makes me nervous.”

New YorkFirst Health Part D Value Plus

“I used this plan in 2013 and it was pretty good…most prescriptions cost me 0. But some prescriptions were not covered and I had to scramble to find the drugs elsewhere. Their cost per month was good, but now it is going up, and I will be switching to a cheaper monthly cost plan.”

Once you read reviews and compare plans on MedicareDrugPlans, head over to the government’s site, www.Medicare.gov, at which you can type in the drugs you take and find out which plans offer the best coverage for you. Using Medicare.gov and ratings from MedicareDrugPlans.com will help you make a fully informed decision. And don’t forget to leave a review on MedicareDrugPlans, so your fellow enrollees can learn from your experiences. Good luck finding the plan that is best for you, and don’t forget to enroll by December 7th!

 

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New study on Medicare Part D reveals reversing fortunes for the most vulnerable seniors

The journal Health Affairs recently published an article titled “Medication Affordability Gains Following Medicare Part D Are Eroding Among Elderly With Multiple Chronic Conditions.” The article is about changes in and problems with affordable access to medication for all Medicare enrollees who are 65 and over, not just those with chronic conditions. It focuses on two different time periods, 2007 to 2009 and 2009 to 2011. The data shows that while Medicare Part D initially improved access to affordable medication, some of those gains were lost, and for seniors taking the most medications, the most vulnerable, improvements may have disappeared entirely.

In 2005, before Part D plans were available, the study noted that an estimated 14.9% of seniors experienced cost-related problems accessing prescription drugs (meaning they did not take medicine as prescribed due to cost), also called cost-related prescription non-adherence (CRN). CRN decreased to 11.3% in 2007. Then, surprisingly, following the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression (during which the average wealth of the elderly dropped 20%), the number decreased further to 10.2%.

During the economic upturn, however, the CRN figures crept back up to 10.8 by 2011. The same trend – a decline then an increase – happened for the percent of seniors forgoing other needs to pay for medicine (such as food and heat): 8.8 percent in 2005, 5.6% in 2007, 4.0%, but back up to 5.3% in 2011.

The CRN numbers are much worse for seniors with four or more chronic conditions, such as diabetes, cancer, hypertension, and asthma, among others, representing about 27% of all beneficiaries. (more…)

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Last week, we reported on proposed changes to Medicare Part D that could have made it harder for millions of seniors to obtain prescribed medicine. One congressman from Pennslvania, Tim Murphy, went so far to say that suicide rates would increase as a result of the proposed changes, referring to a change that would have allowed insurers to reduce coverage for antipsychotics, immunosuppressants, and antidepressants. Other proposed changes included allowing the government to intervene in contracts between insurers and pharmacies, limiting the number of drug plans available, and also expanding access to community pharmacies.

Outcry from both sides of the aisle, as well as patient and consumer rights advocates, has resulted in the Obama administration reversing course on the changes. “We will engage in further stakeholder input before advancing some or all of the changes in these areas in future years,” wrote Marilyn Tavenner, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

We are glad specifically that coverage for critical medication will remain strong and that the number of drug plans will not be limited in certain areas. We know that the intention of reducing drug plans was to help make it easier to choose a plan. On the other hand, we support expanding access to community pharmacies and hope for further action on that front.

Fortunately, there are online resources that can help with this. Not all Medicare drug plans are created equal. PharmacyChecker.com runs MedicareDrugPlans.com, which you can use to compare plans and read or write reviews on those plans available in your area.

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Future Changes to Medicare Part D may curtail access to affordable medication for millions of seniors enrolled in Part D prescription drug plans, according to Kaiser Health News and USA Today.

The Obama administration wants to remove three drug classes, immunosuppressants, antipsychotics, and antidepressants, from the list of specially protected drugs. What this means is that insurers would no longer be required to cover the majority of these drugs in those classes. What that means is that more  patients will struggle to afford – and even skip – medications due to high out-of-pocket costs at U.S. pharmacies.

An alliance of Democrats, Republicans, drug companies, and patient advocates oppose the proposal. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-PA, who is also a psychologist, fears the worst: “If you restrict access to these drugs you restrict the treatment of mental illness,” he said. “You raise suicide rates.” Murphy’s sharp statement suggests just how important drug coverage for Medicare beneficiaries is. Over half of seniors aged 65 or older take at least five prescription drugs, and a carefully organized prescription plan may have disastrous side-effects if a drug is switched for another. Such substitution would likely occur for many patients if drugs are removed from special protection. (more…)

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Your prescription drugs will never be free under Medicare Part D. The “closed” donut hole under Obamacare does not create a new coverage period under Part D during which your co-pays and co-insurance, not to mention deductibles and premiums, disappear. That’s not a reason to complain. We should shoulder costs for our healthcare, including medication, as long as they are affordable (after all, Obamacare is actually called the Affordable Care Act). So how does Obamacare strive to help you afford your prescription drugs if you’re on Medicare? First, a little history…

In the beginning, Medicare did not offer a prescription drug benefit and tens of millions of seniors paid for their medications entirely out-of-pocket. Let there be light: In 2003, Congress passed the Medicare Modernization Act, which was then signed into law by President Bush. That law gave birth to Part D – a prescription drug benefit available to Medicare enrollees. But there were holes! When Medicare Part D plans first launched in 2006, average monthly premiums were $25.93. After paying a standard deductible of $250, enrollees paid 25% of their drug costs until total drug costs (between the enrollee and insurer) reached $2,250. That’s $250 towards the deductible, $500 in cost-sharing, plus premiums of $311.16 for a total of $1,061.16 per year in out-of-pocket spending. That’s if you stayed out of the donut hole!

Enter the dark days of the “donut hole,” which, in 2006, meant 100% out-of-pocket spending between $2,250 and $5,100 – Ouch!  Above $5,100 – an amount called, for good reason, “catastrophic costs” –enrollees only paid 5% of their drug costs. Part D maintained these basic components, except with rising costs in the form of higher premiums and deductibles, and a larger “donut hole,” until the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010 – enter Obamacare (hope and change?).

(more…)

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How Your Medicare Part D Co-Pay Changes Can Impact You

We’ve been writing about upcoming changes in Medicare Part D on this blog for the past few weeks. Last week, we pointed out some significant changes to deductibles and premiums but those aren’t the only cost-related changes you have to worry about. Your current plan’s co-payment (flat fee) or co-insurance (percentage fee) may also change in 2014, greatly impacting your wallet unless you change your plan.

Medicare Part D plans often categorize drugs by “tier,” and all drugs within a tier have the same cost-sharing. Today, we’re going to focus on upcoming changes to cost-sharing within a tier.

One notable change is to Aetna Medicare Rx Premier’s preferred brand co-pay when purchasing meds from in-network pharmacies. For many states, the plans’ 2013 co-pay was $99 for a 90-day supply of medication. But in 2014, Aetna’s co-pay in this tier will be replaced with co-insurance to the tune of 25% of a drug’s cost,  which can mean much higher costs for you. For instance, the cholesterol drug Crestor, which was in this tier in 2013, costs around $600 for a 90-day supply. In 2014, that could cost somebody with this plan $150, instead of just $99, a 50% increase!

Other plans have simpler changes, and some are even good, like those to First Health Part D Essentials. This plan is available in many states, but we’ll specifically look at the plan’s changes in Connecticut. The co-insurance for using the plan’s mail order pharmacy for preferred brand-name drugs drops 40%, from 25% to 15%. This is great if you’re buying a preferred brand name drug. But in order to make up for the savings on preferred meds, the co-insurance for non-preferred brands rises slightly, from 42% to 44%. Although the difference is only 2% of the drug’s cost, it can add up quickly when applied to multiple medications.

To make things even more complicated, a plan’s changes can vary from state to state. The First Health Part D plan mentioned above actually has a lower non-preferred brand co-insurance in a few states. In Illinois, the co-insurance drops from 50% to 47%.

These few examples of cost-sharing changes to Part D plans show you the importance of doing your research. Your plan may have specific changes not mentioned here, but the only way to find out is to look at its details for 2014. If you are thinking about checking out new plans, head over to MedicareDrugPlans.com, where you can read reviews and see ratings left by plan members.

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As we wrote a few weeks ago, there are loads of changes coming to Medicare Part D next year. Changes to your plan’s deductible and monthly premium can impact your wallet, for better or for worse! We’ve analyzed the plans from 2013 and 2014 and identified those with notable changes to their deductibles and premiums.

Keep in mind that there may be other important changes to a plan, such as those to its formulary or cost sharing structure. For example, the deductible for Blue MedicareRx Value plan double in 2014, and it is also losing about 700 drugs from its formulary. On the other hand, this plan and others might see increases in deductibles or premiums correspond with lower co-pays or better donut hole coverage, which could save you a lot of money.

The tables below show you examples of plans with large changes, and aren’t meant to be comprehensive. To view more plan options, and read reviews and ratings by members, head over to MedicareDrugPlans.com.

Notable Decreases in Plan Deductibles

Plan Name States 2013 Deductible 2014 Deductible Dollar Change % Change

Express Scripts Medicare – Choice (PDP)

Many States $200 0 -$200 -100%
Health Alliance Medicare Prescription Plan – Enhcd (PDP)

Illinois $325 0 -$325 -100%
United American – Enhanced (PDP) Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, $40 $20 -$20 -50%

Notable Increases in Deductible

Plan Name States 2013 Deductible 2014 Deductible Dollar Change % Change
Blue MedicareRx Value (PDP)

Arizona $150 $310 $160 107 %
Prescription Blue Option A (PDP)

Michigan $125 $195 $70 56%
Blue Rx Plus (PDP)

Pennsylvania, West Virginia $250 $310 $60 24%

Notable Decreases in Monthly Premiums

Plan Name States 2013 Premium 2014 Premium Dollar Change % Change
WellCare Classic (PDP)

Mississippi $36.60 $17.30 -$19.30 -53%
Aetna Medicare Rx Essentials (PDP) Oregon, Washington $72.90 $35.20 -$37.70 -52%
Express Scripts Medicare – Choice (PDP) Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota $102.70 $70.60 -$32.10 -31%

Notable Increases in Monthly Premiums

Plan Name States 2013 Premium 2014 Premium Dollar Change % Change
Aetna CVS/pharmacy Prescription Drug Plan (PDP)

Florida $32.50 $75.00 $42.50 131%
AARP MedicareRx Saver Plus (PDP)

Oregon, Washington $15 $29.50 $14.50 97%
First Health Part D Value Plus (PDP)

Colorado $32.30 $58.40 $26.10 81%

Once again, you need to shop around and do your research to get the best plan. Check out some reviews and ratings at MedicareDrugPlans.com – and rate your current plan to help others – then head over to the government’s site www.medicare.gov to compare plan formularies, and choose a plan that covers the medications you take.

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Why You Should Change Your Medicare Drug Plan for 2014

Part D enrollment begins today and there are loads of drug plan changes you should be aware of. Our website MedicareDrugPlans.com can help you navigate them.

A new analysis from eHealth Inc. has found that 78% of Medicare beneficiaries did not compare prices on prescription drugs when shopping for Medicare Drug Plans during open enrollment for 2013. This is bad news for consumers, as not all Medicare Drug Plans are created equal! The average Medicare beneficiary could have saved $600 in 2013 by shopping smartly.

Not only do different drug plans set different deductibles and premiums, but they also cover different drugs. You need to find the plan with the lowest cost dependent on your needs.  A low deductible and premium doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t cover the drugs that you take. Odds are, according to eHealth, that you can save money by switching plans.

If you are happy with your current plan, you should still compare plans, as your plan may not be, well, current. Deductibles and premiums change. Your plan’s donut hole (coverage gap), preferred pharmacy, or formulary can change. It’s also possible that your plan will be merged with another plan or won’t even exist in 2014, in which case you may be transferred to another plan. The possibilities for change are endless!

Head over to MedicareDrugPlans.com to view 2014 plans, and find the plan that is best for you. Then head over to the government’s site, Medicare.gov, which is the best place to actually enroll in your plan.

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Medicare Enrollees, Start Your Part D Drug Plan Engines!

October 15th is just around the corner, which means that it’s time for open enrollment for Medicare Part D drug plans. If you are eligible and want to sign up for or change your plan, you have until December 7th to do so.

Comparing plans is no easy task.  First, you need to consider a plan’s drug coverage to make sure it covers the meds you take, and then its costs. Then there are monthly premiums and deductibles. And then there’s the stuff you can’t figure out based only on numbers: Is your plan accepted at your local pharmacy? Do you need to use a mail order pharmacy? How is the customer service?

Luckily, our sister site MedicareDrugplans.com can help you evaluate those questions. It lets you compare deductibles, monthly premiums, and coverage during the “donut hole”. More importantly, you can look at drug plan reviews and ratings written by your peers, which can reveal more subtle problems with plans, such as poor wait times for customer service, unexpected formulary changes, or dissatisfaction with mail-order pharmacy options.

For some examples, read what consumers in Florida are saying in Florida about the AARP MedicareRx Enhanced plan:

2011: “Medication I need was suddenly pulled from the formulary and AARP won’t even consider it with doctor’s intervention. They care less about patient care and more about the bottom line.”

2012: “The co-pay is more than what I would pay with plain medicare.”

2013: “Takes too long to get prescriptions from mail order; too many additional authorizations from doctors who are too busy to deal with this extra paperwork.”

Please know that these are just a few examples of reviews and that some people may have benefited greatly from this plan. It could be no worse than most others and better than some, but the complaints are representative of those we’ve found written about many plans.

Once you’ve viewed ratings and reviews, and even written one yourself, head over to Medicare.gov to make sure the plan covers your meds, compare final costs, and then sign up for the right plan. The average premium nationally is $53.80, and the maximum annual deductible is $310, down $15 from last year.

Research and choose your plan carefully. Whatever plan you go with will start January 1st, 2013 and last for a full year – so make it the right one for you! Visit MedicareDrugPlans.com today.

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