Best Ways to Save: November 2014

Best Ways to Save: November 2014

Six Steps To Lower Health And Drug Plan Costs in 2015

How much can someone save by reevaluating their health and drug plan coverage? Last year one man learned he would save $5,200 for the year and his wife would save $1,450 by switching to a different Medicare plan and using a different pharmacy — a total of $6,650 for the year! Recently I helped a neighbor save an estimated $3,456 over the next year when we discovered his drug plan didn't cover his expensive brand name drug and he had bad reactions to the generic that was substituted.

You just don't know what you could save unless you take time to review your options. On average, people who reviewed and compared drug and Medicare Advantage plans last year saved a reported $220 in 2014. The savings could be much higher if you have chronic health conditions and take multiple prescriptions. Every year plans make changes and new plans are offered that might save you money. With some plans you get the lowest price on drugs by using a specific pharmacy. Medicare gives you an opportunity to review and make changes from October 15 through December 7.

Here are six steps to take the "overwhelming" part out of the process.

1. Review. Carefully read the letter from your current Medicare plans listing changes for 2015. Has the premium or deductible increased? Are there changes to the drug plan formulary and how drugs are covered? Hint: You might not be able figure this out at first. If so, you may need to get more assistance. (Keep reading we'll tell you how.) Have your health and prescriptions changed? Make a list of all your current prescriptions, accurately spelling the name, dosage, and the quantity you take each month — you'll need this later. Is your current plan ending?

2. Find a SHIP. SHIP is your State Health Insurance Assistance Program that offers free unbiased one-on-one counseling and assistance to people with Medicare and their families. You can find a counselor here who serves your area and can help you compare, select and switch plans. Because SHIP counselors are not selling insurance and don't receive commissions, you will get unbiased help. You can also find SHIP counselors through many local Area Agencies on Aging or your local Department of Senior Services.

3. Try comparing plans yourself. You can find a complete listing of options based on the drugs you currently take by using Medicare's "Health and Drug Plan Finder" tools at Click on the "find health and drug plans" button and look for the tutorial video for complete step-by-step how-to instructions. For a customized search, enter your zip code and Medicare number and you will be taken to a second screen that allows you to choose whether to view drug plans only or Medicare Advantage plans with (or without) drug coverage. A third screen prompts you to enter your prescription drugs, and a fourth screen allows you to choose pharmacies. Your list of results will start with your current coverage, then a listing of plans starting with the least costly.

4. Check details. The plan with the lowest premium may not necessarily be your least costly choice, especially if the plan doesn't cover one or more expensive prescriptions. Click on the plan link to see all the plan details and print out copies of details about the plans you want to take time to study. Check premiums, deductibles and how the plan works. For example, more plans are imposing two tiers of generics, with preferred and non-preferred generics. Check to see how your drugs are listed, since this will affect their cost. In addition, some new plans offer zero or low co-pays on preferred generics prior to the deductible. If you need a non-preferred generic or brand, however, then you must satisfy the deductible before your coverage would kick in. Don't automatically pass up lower-costing plans simply because you're unfamiliar with the name. Look for a plan's star ratings and do some further online research.

5. Confirm information. Double check the information for all plans that you are interested in by visiting their website. Make sure you are comparing the same plan by using the plan number from your printouts. Navigate the plan website to see how readily you can find the plan formulary and, if checking a Medicare Advantage plan, learn if your doctors and hospitals are listed as preferred providers. You may also want to try doing a general Google search on the plan insurer, even checking business news sources that can give you valuable information on the financial strength of the insurer. If you select a new plan, keep a file with the plan name, number, phone number and other details you have printed out.

6. Change plans when it's in your best interest. You can switch plans a number of ways. If comfortable doing so, you can enroll in a new plan directly online. You will need your Medicare number and to fill out your name, address and personal information when you do so. If you are using a SHIP counselor, he or she can help take care of that for you either on the phone or in a one-on-one appointment. You can also call and enroll in the plan directly. When you enroll in a new health or drug plan, your old plan will automatically receive a cancellation notice. Watch the mail carefully for a package of information and enrollment cards from your new plan. If you don't receive them in 14 days after enrolling, contact the new plan and let them know. You will need your new cards starting January 1, 2015 for filling prescriptions and visiting your doctors.