Consumers Union finds up to $1,900 annual increases in plan premiums, drug costs; urges beneficiaries to check plan costs during Nov. 15 open enrollment period
Halloween may be over, but Medicare Part D beneficiaries shopping during open enrollment could be in for a nasty scare, with up to $1,915 in cost increases next year for premiums and five commonly used prescriptions – the equivalent of about two month’s worth of Social Security checks.
“Anyone currently enrolled in the Medicare drug program should sit down with their family this holiday season to make sure their plan still offers a good deal next year,” said Bill Vaughan, senior health policy analyst for Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports.
“Those folks who simply stick with their current Medicare drug plan and fail to check next year’s drug prices and premiums could face financial disaster come January,” Vaughan added.
Consumers Union also found that while many plans are reducing monthly premiums for next year, they actually are increasing overall annual costs for the five common prescription drugs monitored in the study.
“Lower monthly premiums can be dangerously deceptive to a senior who doesn’t also check on the costs of the drugs they are taking under that plan,” Vaughan said. “Just because you see your monthly premiums go down, don’t assume your drug costs won’t go up, perhaps dramatically.”
The largest increase among the five states sampled was for Envision RxPlus Gold of New York, which increased total premium and drug costs 60 percent – or $1,915 – from January 2007 to January 2008. This plan also had the highest increases in Florida and California, and Texas (along with Blue MedicareRx Standard), and was second only to Blue MedicareRx Standard in Illinois.
“It is so important to take the time and shop among plans, and use the Medicare website (www.Medicare.gov) to check your drug costs,” Vaughan said, adding that CU found up to a $2,700 difference between the lowest and highest cost plan within a state for the five drugs sampled. “A plan that was a bargain this year may be the exact opposite next year. Beneficiaries have just a few weeks during open enrollment to avoid being stuck with a high cost plan in 2008.”
While the majority of plans CU sampled increased overall costs, some plans kept costs low, or even reduced their costs from year to year.
In 2007, HealthSpring Prescription Drug Plan–Reg 22 had the fifth lowest overall drug costs of any plan in Texas for the five sampled drugs and premiums, and a 2008 cost increase of as little as 3 percent. This now make it the least expensive plan in the state for the five drugs (in New York, Illinois and California the least expensive plans for these five drugs are also run by HealthSpring).
“It is essential that beneficiaries look carefully on the Medicare website and in the ‘Medicare and You Handbook’ for plans with prices that start low and stay low,” Vaughan said.
Plan with the greatest percentage increase in total cost
California: EnvisionRx Plus Gold
57% Increase in total cost
$1,867 Increase in total cost
Plans with the greatest percentage increase in total costs which also reduced monthly premiums:
California: Bravo RxII
When percentage increase in total costs was rounded to the nearest percent
29% Increase in total costs*
$812 Increase in total costs*
Consumers Union also reminds beneficiaries that many could benefit by reviewing their drug options with their doctors and considering effective, lower-cost alternatives. Savings from moving to a generic or lower cost brand alternative might more than cover their Part D premiums. Information on the safest, most effective drugs is available, free, on the CU website, www.CRBestBuyDrugs.org.