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Medicare Drug Coverage: Part D

Medicare has made prescription drug coverage available to everyone currently on Medicare though their Part D program. Part D drug plans, which are sold by private insurance companies, can vary in cost and by the drugs they cover. This drug coverage is not included in Original Medicare and is typically available two different ways. Your first option is if you have Original Medicare, typically with a Medicare Supplement plan, then you can enroll in a stand alone Part D plan when you are new to Medicare or during another valid enrollment period. The second way you can get drug coverage is built into a Medicare Advantage Plan.

Part D drug coverage with Original Medicare

If you have chosen to stay with Original Medicare, which is most common when you enroll in a Medicare Supplement Plan, then you will have the option to sign up for a stand alone Part D drug plan. The benefit of going this route is that you are able to pick your Drug Plan independently from your Medicare supplement plan. For example you could take your Medicare Supplement Plan though Aetna and your Part D plan though United Healthcare. This allows you to find the Insurance company that offers you the lowest price for your Medicare Supplement Plan and independently select the company that will cover your RX medications for the lowest price available. This flexibility could end up saving you quite a bit of money!

Part D drug coverage with a Medicare Advantage Plan

If you have chosen to take a Medicare Advantage Plan (Also know as Part C of Medicare), then your prescription drug coverage will typically be built into the plan that you select. Medicare advantage plans look and feel very similar to the health insurance you may have had before you joined Medicare, where your hospital, doctor, and drug coverage was all provided by the same company and you only needed to carry one ID card.

How and when to enroll in a Part D Drug plan

You are eligible to enroll in a Medicare prescription drug plan if you have Part A and/or Part B of Medicare. Enrollment in into Part D plans are limited to certain times when you have a valid enrollment Period.

These enrollment periods include:

​Initial Enrollment Period: This is a period when you are new to Medicare for the first time and are able to enroll in either a Medicare Advantage or stand alone Part D plan regardless of the time of year. This enrollment period lasts for seven months beginning 3 months prior to the month you turn 65 and continues until 3 months after your birth month.

Example: If you turn 65 on June 15th then your Initial enrollment period would be March 1st – September 30th​​

Annual Enrollment Period: (October 15th – December 7th) Each year during the Annual enrollment Period you will have the opportunity to switch your Medicare advantage or Part D drug plan to any other plan you wish for the coming year. This is also the time to sign up for a drug plan if you have been on Medicare without drug coverage in the past. The coverage you enroll with will begin on January 1st of the following year.

Note: This does not pertain to Medicare Supplement plans as you can that coverage any time of year.

Special Election Period: Other then the two previous mention enrollment periods you can only enroll in a Part D drug plan if you qualify for a Special Election Period. The most common examples of situations that would qualify are if you are leaving a group health insurance plan or have moved outside of your current drug plans service area.

How to avoid penalties for not having a drug coverage

Medicare Part D plans are available not only to help you pay your current drug expenses but to also protect you from very high drug costs in the future. Medicare strongly encourages you to take out a Part D plan as soon as you are on Medicare by way of a late enrollment penalty if you choose to not enroll. Depending on your circumstances, if you choose to enroll in a Part D program after you first go onto Medicare, you might have to pay a late enrollment penalty of 1% per month for each month you waited to enroll for the rest of the time you have drug coverage.

Many states have low cost Part D plans which you can select to act as a safety net, while helping to avoid the penalties. You might consider this option if you don’t currently take prescription drugs.


How do Part D plans work?

Each Medicare prescription drug plan sold by a private insurance company has its own list of covered drugs called a “formulary”. Each of the drugs covered in a formulary will be placed into different “tiers” which refers to the co-pay for the drug. Drugs in lower tiers will typically cost less than those drugs in higher tiers.

Prescription drug plans can make some changes to their formularies during the year as long as they remain within the guidelines set by Medicare.

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