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4 Ways to Save on Medicare Drug Plans

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Medicare open enrollment is underway, which means many people are sorting through a a dizzying array of drug plan choices. The deadline is Dec. 7th (yes, three weeks earlier than usual) and with all those choices, experts recommend starting as soon as possible to find the best plans.

Encore talked to Jim Toedtman, editor of the AARP Bulletin, about how seniors can make sense of the many options to settle on the best — and least expensive — Medicare drug plan.  Here are his tips:

Don’t panic. Sure, it seems a little overwhelming choosing from the 25 to 30 plans that your state offers. But “take a deep breath,” Toedtman says — and start doing a little introductory research on Medicare.gov.  On the site, seniors can enter their zip code, answer a few questions, and enter the names of the drugs they’re taking, and the site will list plans that might work.

Get help. For those seniors who still aren’t sure which plan to choose, getting help from an organization or individual who knows a lot about Medicare can help, he says.  Local senior centers, churches and libraries often offer referrals to people who can help you navigate the Medicare maze, as do a variety of third parties.  However, “be skeptical of third party advisers,” he says. “They may be scammers.” If you’re unsure if you can trust the person, call your local Area on Aging office or local senior center.

Look beyond premiums. While premiums are certainly important, Toedtman says it’s also important to look both at the drugs that are covered on the plan, as well as what the co-pays are. Co-pays can vary significantly — a study that AARP did in Florida found that the co-pays for cholesterol drug Lipitor varied from $0 to $90 across plans in that state.

Consider generics. A number of blockbuster drugs have just come off patent, including Lipitor, blood-thinner Plavix, diabetes drug Actos and acid reflux drug Protonix. Seniors who are taking these drugs, but discover the plan they want has high co-pays, should check to see if the generic version is significantly cheaper, he says.

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About Encore

  • Encore examines the changing nature of retirement, from new rules and guidelines for financial security to the shifting identities and priorities of today’s retirees. The blog also explores news that affects retirement, from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network and around the web. Lead bloggers are reporter Catey Hill and senior editor Jeremy Olshan. Other contributors include The Wall Street Journal’s retirement columnists Glenn Ruffenach and Anne Tergesen; the Director for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Alicia Munnell; and the Director of Research for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Michael Kitces, CFP.

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