Navigating Medicare Drug Plans

CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews offers some tips on how to weed through the registration process for the Medicare prescription drug benefit. The enrollment deadline is May 15, 2006, after which monthly penalties may be applied.



We all know the new Medicare drug benefit, called Medicare Part D, is terribly confusing. Some states have more than 40 different plans, all offered through private insurance companies, and each is competing for your enrollment with different prices and coverage packages.

OK, It's Confusing! Now, How Do You Sign Up For It?

What follows is the best, step by step list of "how-to" pointers I can come up with after consulting with Medicare, with several insurance companies, and with non-profit groups that follow issues related to aging.

I won't sugar coat this. Finding the best deal will be work, but the upside is that, for a reasonable cost, you will be protected for life against a catastrophic loss of income or assets due to the cost of drugs.

So here goes.

  1. Before doing anything, make a list of the drugs you take, the dosage amount of each drug and the pharmacies you normally use. Have your Medicare number ready. If you have drug coverage now, through a retirement plan, your union or your employer, have the details of the plan ready, even if you have a notice telling you it's a "creditable" plan.

  2. If you are internet capable, go to www.medicare.gov. In the middle of the opening page, click on "Compare Medicare Prescription Drug Plans." This will get you started.

  3. If you are not Internet capable, then, with your list ready, call 1-800-Medicare, which is 1-800-633-4227. They have solved most of the long-wait problems you may have heard about. TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048.

  4. Either on the Web or with the Medicare phone counselor, enter your list of drugs, dosages and pharmacies.

  5. At this point, take a minute to determine if Medicare Part D is better than the coverage you have now. If your current coverage is superior, and you've been informed your current coverage is "creditable," you don't need to sign up for Medicare D.

  6. If, however, Medicare D is for you then the Web site or the phone counselor will give you a list of four or five insurance company plans that cover your drugs and your pharmacies in your state. They will quote you the yearly costs from each plan. Write down the phone numbers of the selected plans and the out of pocket cost quotes.

  7. Now you have an important choice. If you like what you are hearing from the Medicare counselor, or seeing on the web, you can enroll directly at this point. Or you can keep shopping.

  8. If you decide to shop, call the selected plans directly. Confirm the coverage of your drugs and pharmacies and confirm the cost quotes you got from Medicare. If the plan is promising no deductibles, confirm this.

  9. When you shop, you should ask these plans if they require pre-authorization of your drugs. Pre-authorization of a covered drug is a hurdle you may not want.

Make your selection based on the following criteria:
  • Price
  • Convenience
  • Deductible or no deductible?
  • How much you trust the insurance company.

    Then enroll!

    • David Hancock

      David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.

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