In this post, we’ll give you some snapshots of consumer frustration, pulled from www.MedicareDrugPlans.com (a website operated by PharmacyChecker.com), about the problem of medications getting dropped from Part D Plans and tell you what is and is not actually permissible. I believe this practice is well characterized by the phrase “bait and switch.” Just listen to Riley from California talk about Blue Shield Medicare Enhanced Plan:
“Keep changing the drugs in the formulary. Just get stabilized on a drug and they drop it from the formulary or charge high tier prices. Then you start on a different drug fine one that works then it is no long covered in next formulary. There is no concern for the patient doesn’t matter to them if you wind in the emergency room at a cost of many thousands of dollars and patient’s pain and discomfort. It is not their problem the medical coverage has to pay for it and the drug coverage have saved themselves some money at the cost of medical coverage, medicare and the patient.”
Before choosing a plan, most experts encourage people to research plan premium and deductible costs, pharmacy networks, gap coverage, and – most importantly – which drugs are covered in a plan’s formulary. The beauty of the government’s Medicare Plan Finder is that you get to actually type in your medications and find plans that cover those drugs. So imagine doing just that: you look on the government’s site and find a plan that covers the three medications you take. You’ve taken THE BAIT and enroll in that plan. Come January all is well, your costs are manageable and you pat yourself on the back for a research job well done. Then in March – THE SWITCH – you find out that the brand name drug prescribed by your doctor, which has worked well for you for years, will no longer be covered and you either have to take an alternative drug that is covered or pay for the drug as an out-of-pocket cost.
Is this type of bait and switch legal? Yes. After reviewing the regulation, 42 CFR 423.120, the law is clear that Part D plan sponsors can take a covered drug off its formulary. There are some caveats but I don’t believe they compensate for how unfair these formulary changes are. The plan must either give you 60 days notification before the formulary change goes into effect or if you go to the pharmacy for a refill the plan must cover the drug with a 60-day supply. In other words, they need to warn you about the bait and switch to give you time to figure out your next move.
Some enrollees seem to have had good experiences with a plan and then everything just tanks. We learn from one Michigan resident about an experience using the Cigna-HealthSpring Rx Secure plan
“After 5 years in plan they dropped coverage on 3 of my 5 scripts, no value now, cheaper to buy all on my own”
Some consumers gave greater details about the costs incurred due to these bait and switch practices. Here’s what one Floridian said about AARP MedicareRx Saver Plus:
“They dropped an important Blood Pressure medication (Micardis) for 2015 as well as others. Out of pocket cost went from 2013 -$60.00, then in 2014 $120.00 now in 2015 over $545.00 for 90 day supplies of Micardis through Optum RX their online med source. Too late for me, will look for a better Part D source come next year.”
Our friend from Florida could look for a new plan for 2016 but what guarantees to they have that the same bait and switch won’t occur?
Is there an upshot here? You do receive notification with 60 days to figure out what to do. The notification that you’ll receive about your drug being dropped must contain, to quote from the federal regulation, “alternative drugs in the same therapeutic category.” It might seem like small consolation if the medication you’ve been using works but do not rule out a pharmaceutical alternative, probably a lesser expensive generic, IF your prescriber believes it will work just as well.
If you and your healthcare provider decide you should take the drug that was dropped and not a pharmaceutical alternative, and the costs are too high domestically, then you might consider an international online pharmacy verified by PharmacyChecker.com. Brand name drugs are often 90% lower outside the U.S. when purchased from a verified online pharmacy.
Finally, there is an appeal process that you and your healthcare provider can use if you believe your plan isn’t covering the medications you need – including ones that they drop! I’ve read that this process can be a serious nightmare. But this is a blog post unto itself and I plan on covering this topic in the weeks to come.bait and switch, consumer review, formulary changes, Medicare Part D, medicaredrugplans.com