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It’s smart to make an annual search for a better Medicare drug plan

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Dear Savvy Senior: Is it important to compare Medicare Part D prescription drug plans every year? My pharmacist highly recommends it, but it’s such a hassle sorting through all those different plans. Is there an easier way to shop and compare Medicare drug plans? — Lazy Beneficiary

Dear Beneficiary: Because Medicare’s prescription drug plans can change their costs and benefits from year to year, comparing Part D plans every year during the open enrollment season (Oct. 15 to Dec. 7) is always a smart idea.

Even if you’re happy with your current coverage, there may be other plans out there that you’re not aware of that offer better coverage at a lower cost. You never know until you take a look. Here are some tips to help you shop and compare Medicare drug plans.

Medicare online

If you have internet access and are comfortable using a computer, you can easily compare all the Medicare drug plans in your area and enroll in a new plan online if you choose, and it takes only a few minutes.

Just go to Medicare’s Plan Finder Tool at and choose the type of coverage you’re looking for, enter your ZIP code, financial assistance if you receive any, select the drugs you take and their dosages, and choose the pharmacies you use. The plan finder does the math to identify the plan in your area that covers your drugs at the lowest cost.

This tool also provides a five-star rating system that evaluates each plan based on past customer service records, and suggests generics or older brand-name drugs that can reduce your costs.

When you’re comparing drug plans, look at the estimated drug costs plus premium costs, which shows how much you can expect to pay over a year in total out-of-pocket costs.

Also, be sure the plan you’re considering covers all of the drugs you take with no restrictions. Most drug plans today place the drugs they cover into price tiers. A drug placed in a higher tier might require you to get prior authorization or try another medication first before you can use it.

Any changes to coverage you make will take effect Jan. 1. If you take no action during open enrollment, your current coverage will continue next year.

Need some help?

If you need assistance with choosing a new plan, call Medicare at 800-633-4227; they can help you over the phone. Or contact your State Health Insurance Assistance Program, which provides free Medicare counseling. They also conduct seminars during the open enrollment period at various locations throughout each state. To find a local SHIP counselor, go to or call 877-839-2675.

Financial assistance

If you’re lower-income and are having a hard time paying your medication costs, you may be eligible for Medicare’s “Extra Help” program. This is a federal low-income subsidy that helps pay Part D premiums, deductibles and copayments.

To be eligible, your income must be under $19,320, or $26,130 for married couples living together, and your assets (not counting your home, personal possessions, vehicles, life insurance policies or burial expenses) must be below $14,790, or $29,520 for married couples. For more information or to apply, call Social Security at 800-772-1213 or visit

Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit

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