Best Ways To Save: September 2015

Best Ways To Save: September 2015

Are You Settling For The Short End Of The Stick? Shop For A Better Health Plan

Sharply rising prescription drug costs are expected to be a problem for older households next year. Unprecedented increases in the cost of generic drugs, and the controversial costs of new specialty drugs that can sometimes run into the tens of thousands for a single course of treatment, are forcing higher out-of-pocket costs. Meanwhile, Social Security benefits are unlikely to increase much — if at all — in 2016, so any increase in other costs will dig deeper into your income and savings.

But don't just give up and accept the higher costs as an inevitable fact of life. The Medicare Open Enrollment period that runs from October 15 through December 7 gives you the opportunity to explore your options and change to better and less expensive health and drug plans for 2016. The 20 percent of Medicare beneficiaries who take the time to compare and switch plans generally report saving money — often substantial amounts.

One common mistake is to have the same health and drug plan as your spouse, even though the two of you probably have very different health problems and take different prescriptions. Rarely is the same plan the best choice for both of you. Each year, plans change premiums, coverage, out-of-pocket costs and other features. In addition, your health may have changed since you first enrolled, perhaps dramatically. The task doesn't have to be daunting when you enlist free unbiased one-on-one help from a trained Medicare counselor. Here's how to do it:

  • Write down a complete up-to-date list of all the prescription medications you take. Carefully note the name of the drug (check your spelling), the dosage and how frequently you take it (for example, three pills two times per day, a total of six per day). You may also need to note what form the drug comes in, such as capsule, foam, solution, drops, etc. If you are taking a drug that you aren’t certain that you really need to be taking, this would be a good time to call or visit the prescribing physician to see if you should continue to take it. Make sure to take your complete list of drugs with you to all visits to doctors and specialists. If you are married, do this for each of you.
  • Watch the mail for information from your current health or drug plan announcing changes for 2016. You should receive the information by mid to late October. Find the page that explains changes for 2016. Keep the booklet on file where you can access it easily to compare details with other plans over the next few weeks.
  • Ignore the TV and radio ads, trash the direct mail advertising from Medicare Part D plans. There are dozens of plans out there and while having a lot of choice is good, you need a reliable, trusted way to organize the information, in a simple, comprehensible way. Most insurance agents make a commission and are less likely to show you all of your options especially plans that cost less than those they may sell. The most reliable way to learn your choices is to use the Medicare drug and health plan compare tools found at You can get trained, unbiased free help to assist near you.
  • Contact your local Area Agency on Aging or Senior Services Department. For free one-on-one assistance in comparing health and drug plans, to switch plans and to answer questions, call a Medicare benefits counselor who works with your state health insurance assistance program (SHIP). To find local help with Medicare, click here, call your local agency or senior services department, or call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800- 677- 1116. Ask for help to compare your Medicare health and drug plans. Medicare’s Open Enrollment period in October 15 – December 7. Calling one week prior to the start of Open enrollment is a good time to make your appointment.