It’s Open Enrollment Time: Should You Switch Your Medicare Part D Plan?

Help seniors save money on their medications.

In a recent Caring Right at Home poll, more than one-third of respondents reported taking five or more medications. Medicines are beneficial in prolonging life and controlling many of the diseases and other health concerns that seniors experience, such as arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and heart disease. Sometimes the right medication can prevent hospitalization or reduce the length of a hospital stay.

To help older adults afford the medications they need to stay healthy, Congress enacted the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit, which went into effect in 2006. Medicare prescription drug coverage is available for all Medicare beneficiaries. Joining a prescription drug plan is voluntary, and those who opt for it pay an additional monthly premium for the coverage.

Each year, Medicare holds an Open Enrollment Period, during which beneficiaries may switch plans if they like. Open Enrollment begins October 15 and continues through December 7. If you have a Medicare prescription drug plan, Open Enrollment is a great time to revisit the coverage your Medicare Part D plan provides. Has your plan changed? Have your needs changed? Are your needs and your plan still a good match? A recent study from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health showed that many Medicare beneficiaries overpay by hundreds of dollars each year because they aren’t on the ideal prescription drug plan for their individual medical needs. Lead author Chao Zhou, Ph.D., explains, "Over time, they may have simply stuck to their original plan and never switched to a better one. Beneficiaries might not spend much time researching and adjusting their plan choices based on changes in their medication needs and plan options."

How Can Beneficiaries Select the Best Plan?

Medicare offers the interactive Medicare Plan Finder  for comparing the various plans that are available in your area. Using the Finder, you can locate plans available in your area that cover your prescriptions, and participating pharmacies. You also can contact the Senior Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) in your state to help you sort through the options. Find your state’s program by going to the home page and selecting your state from the "Find someone to talk to" box in the middle of the page. Or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).

Low-Income Seniors Can Get Extra Help

Some seniors qualify for a subsidy called Extra Help, which helps qualifying beneficiaries save money on their prescriptions. Learn more about the Extra Help program on the Social Security websiteSome states also offer help through a State Pharmaceutical Assistance Program (SPAP); the National Council on Aging offers a directory of these state assistance programs on their My Medicare Matters website. 

What About the New Health Law?

Some seniors have expressed confusion about what they should do and how they will be affected by the Health Insurance Marketplace, the portion of the new health law that begins October 1, 2013. The answer is: Medicare recipients don’t have to do anything, and they will not be affected. The new Marketplace is for people who don’t have any health insurance. People on Medicare have their insurance through Medicare. It is against the law for someone who knows you have Medicare to try to sell you a Marketplace plan.

Learn More

The website’s drug coverage section includes frequently asked questions about the prescription drug benefit.

The National Council on Aging’s My Medicare Matters website offers interactive information to help you select and evaluate Medicare drug plans

Learn how in-home care helps seniors safely take their prescription drugs in "Medication Management Prevents Unnecessary Hospital Trips for Seniors" in the June 2013 issue of the Caring Right at Home


Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.