From Nov. 15 through the end of the year, Medicare is holding its annual "open enrollment" period for Part D. During this time, eligible seniors can sign-up or change plans. Seniors can compare their current coverage with others among the many competing Medicare drug plans. They can decide whether to stay with their current coverage or switch to another plan that may offer lower premiums or more coverage options.
Unlike traditional government programs, where there's just one plan for everyone, Medicare Part D is structured so that insurance companies must compete for customers. Knowing that beneficiaries have the option to switch means that insurers have to make their plans attractive, or they will lose customers. The record shows that this results in more choices and lower costs.
In 2003, lawmakers estimated seniors would pay an average monthly premium for prescription drug coverage in 2009 of more than $44. But according to government officials, their average monthly premium next year for the standard plan will be just $28.
But some drug plans are raising their prices and changing the specific drugs available. So every senior who is enrolled — even those that are happy with their plans — should be sure to seize this once-a-year opportunity to review their coverage.
Web-savvy seniors can do this is through Medicare's Web site at www.Medicare.gov. There, using the "Medicare Plan Finder," seniors can compare plans based on price, drug coverage, and out-of-pocket expenses. Seniors can also use the Plan Finder to compare the cost of filling a prescription their local pharmacy versus a mail-order drug store.
Seniors without web access can always call 1-(800)-Medicare and speak with a customer service representative who will talk them through their choices.
Seniors may also want to assess whether one of the Medicare Advantage plans also may be right for them. These plans offer a full range of health services and some of them include prescription drug coverage at no extra cost.
Medicare's open-enrollment period ends on Dec. 31, so seniors should act fast to check their options, and make sure they're enrolled in the most affordable plan that best suits their needs. After all, the best gift is good health.
Grace-Marie Turner is president of the Galen Institute, a non-profit research organization focusing on free-market solutions in the health sector. She can be reached at P.O. Box 320010, Alexandria, VA, 22320 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.