NOVEMBER 20, 2006 VOLUME 14, NUMBER 21
Medicare Part D (the prescription drug benefit plan begun last year) includes an annual "election period" from November 15 through the end of the calendar year. Seniors—many of whom struggled to understand the program a year ago and waded through reams of information to select the most promising choice—now must review their existing Part D plan, figure out what changes are in store, and make another selection of the best option available for their individual circumstances.
As was the case last year, there is plenty of information about the plan options facing each Medicare beneficiary. The best collection of information about plan choices comes from the Medicare program itself, which operates a well-designed, understandable and informative website at www.medicare.gov. Among the points made by the Medicare site: the real due date for your Part D selection is December 8, not December 31—you need to make sure your new plan is in effect in time to assure coverage for any January prescription needs.
The upcoming year will provide a number of changes affecting prescription drug coverage. A few of those include:
- The number of available plans continues to proliferate. In the Tucson area, for example, there will be 53 Prescription Drug Plans, 19 Medicare Health Plans, and 10 Medicare Special Needs Plans available—an increase of 20 total options.
- Premiums will generally increase. Last year’s premiums for the Tucson area ranged from $6.14 to $64.86 per month, while the 2007 premiums will vary from $10.40 to $78.10.
- Other costs will also increase, and by more than the rate of general inflation. While Social Security payments, for example, will increase by 3.3% next year, the out-of-pocket costs (not including premiums) for 2007 will increase by 7%. That figure includes a $265 deductible (the 2006 figure was $250), a copayment of the 25% for the next $2,135 (last year the copayment was for just $2,000 of drug costs), and a "donut hole" of $3,051.25 (up from $2,850).
Congress’ switch from Republican to Democratic control may lead to other changes, as well. Democratic leaders have made clear that they expect to immediately address the existing ban on government negotiation of drug prices. One Democratic leader has already introduced a bill that would direct the government to offer and operate a Medicare drug plan of its own. Administration officials argue that both measures conflict with the underlying free-market rationale behind Medicare’s prescription drug program, but it is too early to predict the outcome of that debate.