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Reflections on Medicare Part D as 2015 Sign-Ups End – A Bittersweet Story for American Seniors and Taxpayers

A Bittersweet Prescription

A Bittersweet Prescription

OPEN enrollment for Medicare Part D drug plans ended this past Sunday, but my thoughts about them linger. Our website received about 150 ratings of part D plans in 2014 – most of them highly critical, and some of them downright scathing! Whether it’s a plan’s horrible customer service, lack of coverage of many brand name drugs, or dropped coverage, we’re hearing from many irate seniors. At the same time, some studies have shown most seniors are happy with their plans. Why all the contradictions about Part D? To understand, please join me on a trip down Part D memory lane.

When was founded in 2002, American seniors did not have pharmacy benefit plans through Medicare. While most seniors had some drug coverage through private health insurance or Medicaid, 25% were without any drug coverage and, thus, vulnerable to a pharmacy’s highest retail price. Just eight months after our website launched in April 2003, Congress passed and the president signed the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 (MMA), which created a pharmacy benefit opportunity for all Medicare enrollees known as Part D.

It’s amazing and sad to report that, today, the problem of high drug prices for Americans overall is worse than the problems existing before the MMA was born. In 2001, the Commonwealth Fund reported that 28 million Americans did not fill a prescription due to cost. That number shot up to 50 million Americans in 2012!


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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, 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, – not on 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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It’s That Time Again – Selecting a Medicare Part D Drug Plan

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,, 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,, at which you can type in the drugs you take and find out which plans offer the best coverage for you. Using and ratings from 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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What’s Happening to Medicare Part D? Part II

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. runs, which you can use to compare plans and read or write reviews on those plans available in your area.

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What’s Happening to Medicare Part D?

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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