Part D Open Enrollment Ends Today

Today is the last day for the Medicare Part D open enrollment period. For most Medicare enrollees, those who do not have a plan by midnight tonight will face a penalty charge, which will be added to future Part D monthly premium payments.

The Medicare drug plans have certainly frustrated many seniors, who’s experiences can be found in the ratings and reviews on www.MedicareDrugPlans.com. Some of the most frequent problems with plans communicated by seniors are drugs being dropped by plan formularies mid-year; information on drug coverage was not initially made clear; co-pays were higher than expected; and customer service was often inadequate.

On the other hand, some seniors were completely satisfied with their plans. The bottom line is that you need to pick a plan now or you will pay more later.

Sharing her optimism for Medicare Part D benefits, and the discounts provided under the Affordable Healthcare Act, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius commented on Medicare.gov’s official blog: “Through the end of October, 2.65 million people with Medicare have received discounts on brand name drugs in the donut hole. These discounts have saved seniors and people with disabilities a total of $1.5 billion on prescriptions – averaging about $569 per person.”

If you’ve yet to choose your plan, you can easily compare reviews on MedicareDrugPlans.com before making the final decision. If you want to share your experiences with others then please rate your plan.

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Medicare Part D Drug Plans – Find the Best Plan For You

If you are eligible for Medicare Part D (Drug Plans), you should be aware that 1) open enrollment starts tomorrow, October 15th and 2) you can now research Medicare Part D plans on our site MedicareDrugPlans.com. On the site you find out which plans are rated best (or worst) by people enrolled in them. You’ll also get the 2011 pricing information for every plan in each U.S. state and territory. The information is completely objective – we are not affiliated with any plan.

If you are already enrolled in a Part D plan, MedicareDrugPlans.com allows you to rate and review your current plan, so others can learn from you.

To actually sign up for a plan, we recommend using the government’s website, Medicare.gov – at which you can best determine which plan covers all the prescription drugs you take. Comparing costs and features can be crucial to your health and your finances. Annual deductible, monthly premium and drug coverage (especially in the “doughnut hole”) are important to consider when choosing or changing your prescription plan.

This year the average premium nationally is $55, actual $1 lower than last year! The standard deductible, on the other hand, increased from $310 to $320. Less than ten plans offer coverage through the doughnut hole. However, under the new health care law, brand name drugs are now 50% off through this coverage gap period.

As open enrollment begins, Medicare enrollees interested in a drug plan are urged to research carefully. Whatever plan you choose will go into effect starting January 1st, 2011 and last for one full year – so get it right! Go to www.MedicareDrugPlans.com now.

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An article published last week in Reuters suggests that Medicare Part D drug plans may be dropping premium prices – an effect of the healthcare reform law which could greatly benefit seniors if they shop around. Reevaluating your Medicare drug plan yearly during the open enrollment period is always a good idea, but this year plan selection could make a big difference.

Although we reported in August that plan premiums will not raise in 2012, Avalere Health, a health policy consulting firm, finds that while 10 of the top Part D plans will lower prices, six plans will raise premiums. However, the good news is that in the larger picture Avalere “projects that average premiums for both prescription drug and Advantage plans will fall 4 percent for 2012.” Because of the 2010 heath reform law, Dan Mendelson, Avalere Health’s CEO, is calling this a “year of change.” He tells Reuters, “It’s a year where patients really need to shop.”

MedicareDrugPlans.com provides ratings and reviews – along with basic plan information such as deductibles and premiums– for consumers to access during their research period. Ratings and comments help Medicare enrollees understand the pros and cons of a plan, and user comments and forum posts give details on what other Americans experienced with their plans.

Open enrollment will be from October 15th – December 7th this year, a change from previous years meant to give Medicare enough time to process all changes and new enrollees, and for consumers to manage their health needs before the busy holiday season.

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In Medicare “Doughnut Hole” 3.4 Million Stop Taking Their Medication

New research shows that the Medicare drug plan “doughnut hole” seriously endangers not only the pocketbook, but also the health of our nation’s seniors and other Medicare enrollees. Two separate studies released this month show that patients who reach the coverage gap are more likely to stop taking their medication than they are to switch to a cheaper drug: the Public Library of Science published Changes in Drug Utilization During a Gap in Insurance Coverage: An Examination of the Medicare Part D Coverage Gap, and the Kaiser Family Foundation Program on Medicare Policy published Understanding the Effects of the Medicare Part D Coverage Gap in 2008 and 2009.

The putative reason for the coverage gap is that the threshold will teach consumers to be aware of drug costs. Jennifer Polinski, ScD, MPH, the author of PLoS study says, “there is an expectation that people will seek less expensive drug options when they enter the donut hole.” However, these studies reveal that this is clearly not the case. Research from 2006 and 2007 shows that beneficiaries were 40% less likely to switch a drug if they did not receive financial assistance, as opposed to those beneficiaries who did. Likewise, the Kaiser study reveals that about 3.4 million, or 12%, of Part D enrollees who reached the gap in 2008 and 2009 discontinued their medication. (more…)

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New Drug Savings Options Needed as 43,000 Illinois Residents Lose Benefits

An estimated 43,000 residents of Illinois will find it more difficult, if not impossible, to afford their prescription medication due to heavy budget cuts, according to the Chicago Tribune. Specifically, funding for the Illinois Cares Rx program, which  subsidizes the cost of medicine and payments associated with Medicare drug benefits, will be cut in half, from $107.4 million to $53.7 million. Illinois Cares Rx includes people with a Medicare drug plan and others who have no drug benefits at all.

With the cuts in place beginning September 1st, 2011, the Illinois Cares Rx program will only be available to those residents earning 200 percent or less of the federal poverty level – or $21,780 annually, down from a higher threshold of 240%, or $27,610. Even the 173,500 remaining in the program will “face higher co-payments for prescriptions — in some cases, double the amount they were previously paying.(more…)

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Besides the obvious – access to cheap generic alternatives for once exorbitantly priced prescriptions – this year’s patent expirations on blockbuster brand-name drugs means even more good news for American consumers. A U.S. News and World Report article suggests the Patent Cliff as one of the reasons for the forecasted Medicare savings. Access to low-cost generics on popular drugs like Lipitor cuts spending significantly for plan sponsors, and U.S. officials have announced that enrollees paying for prescription drugs through Medicare Part D will not see an increase in premiums, in contrast with prior years. Rather, the yearly fees will decrease slightly – from an average of $30.76 in 2011 to $30.00 in 2012. All current plan premiums can be found on MedicareDrugPlans.com – Compare Costs and Features.

Moreover, plan enrollees are now receiving a 50% discount on brand name drugs purchased through the coverage gap. However, brand name drug prices continue to increase, which means the discount’s importance is less pronounced. (more…)

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In the State of the Union speech last night, President Obama highlighted prescription savings benefits in his otherwise brief coverage of new healthcare reform. As we’ve previously reported, and President Obama was clear to state, those prescription savings will go mostly to our nation’s seniors who are enrolled in Medicare. Beginning last September, many of America’s seniors received $250 rebate checks for prescription drug costs, a small step toward affordable healthcare. Better yet, starting this year, the coverage gap will narrow, with enrollees receiving a 50% discount on brand name drugs, and by 2020, a 75% discount. While the “doughnut hole” will not fully be closed, the savings will mean that far fewer Medicare enrollees will face exorbitant brand name drug prices out of pocket. (more…)

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More Chain Stores Pick Up $2 Generic Medicare Drug Plan Option

Earlier this month we reported on the UnitedHealthcare Pharmacy Saver plan for Medicare Part D. This plan offers enrollees many of their generic prescriptions for just $2 (some 30- and some 90-day supplies) at Kroger and Safeway chain stores. Our research found that although a few popular generics were not covered by the plan, there was a fairly low co-pay anyway, so cost-wise, UnitedHealthcare has presented a solid Medicare drug plan.

One of our concerns was that those individuals who do not live near a Kroger or Safeway chain will not have easy access to their prescriptions. Well, we have good news to pass on – last week, DrugStoreNews.com announced that Bloom, H-E-B, Hy-Vee, Food Lion, Harveys, Publix Super Markets, Sweetbay Supermarket and Target chains have all joined as participating pharmacies.

This expansion is great, though we still encourage you to compare this plan with others on MedicareDrugPlans.com. It’s important to fit all plan variables to your needs. And remember, just ten more days until open enrollment closes!

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Pharmacies May Not Be the Right Place to Help Find Medicare Drug Plans

Many seniors enrolling in a Medicare drug plan these last 15 days of the open enrollment period may turn to their local pharmacy, presumably a trusted source of medical support and information, for answers and advice. Often pharmacists know a patient’s medical and medicinal history so can give professional and educated advice on which plan could best serve the enrollee; however, this isn’t always the case.

An article in American Public Media suggests that the answers and advice some pharmacy’s give could be guided by the influence of insurance companies. Some drugstores have made deals with and will be rewarded by the drug plan company for steering enrollees toward purchasing their specific plan, whether or not the plan is best for the individual. This is not to say that all pharmacies and pharmacists have a conflict of interest when it comes to Medicare drug plans, but we’re confident that research is the best way you can find your best plan. Ask your doctors and loved ones, check out Medicare.gov and MedicareDrugPlans.com – but do so by December 31st!

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Just in time for the 2011 open enrollment period, UnitedHealth Group Inc. has announced that it will allow its AARP MedicareRx and AARP MedicareComplete Medicare Advantage prescription drug plan participants to purchase 30-day supplies of many generic drugs from Kroger and Safeway chain stores for just $2; 90-day supplies may cost just $4. Between these two pharmacy groups, 397 generic drugs are covered in the program, and both chain stores offer the program via mail-order pharmacy (Prescription Solutions) as well.

Simvastatin, the generic for Zocor – a cholesterol lowering drug, and Metoprolol succinate, the generic of the high blood pressure drug Toprol, are just two of many $2 drugs found on the monthly supply list. You can find a 90-day supply of Ibuprofren 400 – 800mg for just $5. To see which other generics are listed, visit the Pharmacy Saver information and search page. (more…)

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