How to Compare Medicare Part D Drug Plan Costs
Originally published October 2017; Updated November 2019
Choosing a Medicare Part D drug plan (also called a Prescription Drug Plan, or PDP) can be a challenge! Not only are there dozens of plan
options to compare, but you only have a short window of time to make a decision.
October 15 through December 7 is the Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) – this is when you can compare Medicare Part D drug plan costs and potentially switch to a cheaper drug plan.
Medicare Tip: The AEP is also sometimes called the Medicare Open Enrollment or Medicare Enrollment Period. They all refer to the same thing, which is the window of time in the fall that you can make changes to your Medicare Advantage or Part D drug plans.
If you’re enrolling in Medicare for the first time, you can choose your Part D drug plan during the AEP. And if you’re already a seasoned Medicare enrollee, you can change drug plans during the AEP.
Why Should I Switch Part D Drug Plans?
Even if you’re happy with your current drug plan, it’s very important to run a drug comparison anyway, because drug plans change every single year!
Medicare Tip: Not convinced Medicare drug plans change? For those on the 2019 Humana Walmart drug plan, if they don’t make any changes during the AEP, they will be automatically moved to a different Humana drug plan for 2020 that costs, on average, $30 more per month. It pays to do a drug comparison!
Throughout the year, insurance carriers are allowed to change the prices of their drugs. These carriers can move Tier 1 drugs (the cheapest tier) to Tier 2 or Tier 3 (more expensive tiers). This can explain why the cost at the pharmacy went up during the year.
If this has happened, or your current plan is changing, you should compare other drug plans to see if you can continue receiving the same prescriptions for a cheaper price.
Even if you’re very happy with your drug plan and it’s staying the same for next year, other companies come out with new drug plans. They may have a plan that better fits your prescriptions and pharmacy preferences, all while saving you money in premium or copays!
Medicare Tip: Are you eligible for Medicare and not sure if you should choose a drug plan? Going without will cost you – find out how much here: Medicare Drug Coverage Penalty: How the Part D Penalty For Not Enrolling Works
Medicare Drug Plan Costs, Explained
Another important factor is the costs of the drug plan itself.
Medicare drug plan insurance carriers can change a plan’s:
- Monthly premium
It’s important to price shop every year to see if another insurance carrier has become cheaper than your current plan.
Finally, if you have been prescribed a new prescription, you might find that another insurance carrier offers a cheaper price than your current one.
Even if you end up keeping your current drug plan, it never hurts to price shop!
Medicare Tip: Reading this after December 7? Learn more about what your options are if you missed Medicare’s Open Enrollment and still want to choose a drug plan: What If I Missed Medicare Part D's Open Enrollment Period?
How Do I Compare Part D Drug Plan Costs?
You can compare your Medicare Part D drug plan costs on Medicare’s website: Medicare.gov.
In 2019, Medicare revamped its Plan Finder tool, making it easier for consumers to navigate and use. Trust us – it looks a lot better than the old version, so if you’ve never had luck using it before, try it now!
Depending on the time of year you’re looking, the language might be different, but during AEP, you should see a button front and center that says “Find 2020 Health & Drug Plans.” This is located on the homepage of Medicare.gov.
When you click that button, you’ll be prompted to Continue without logging in or to Create an account.
You can continue without logging in, but the advantage of Creating an Account is storing your prescription drug list for the next year. If you're open to it, we recommend creating an account now to save you time in the future. You also get other perks, like viewing your Medicare claims and always being able to see what plans you have.
After that, you'll select “View plans. I know what type of plan I want.” Then, select “Drug plan (Part D).”
Follow the remaining prompts, including entering your personal information, your prescriptions, and your pharmacy choice (select up to 2 to compare).
Then, you can sort your drug plan options by lowest drug + premium cost. This sorts all of the plan options so you can easily see which plan is the least expensive for you.
Medicare Tip: Did you sign up for a drug plan? Check if your enrollment went through with this handy guide: How do I know if my Medicare Part D Drug Plan enrollment went through?
Your least expensive plan option is going to show up first in the results. If you don't like that company or you want to view other plans, you can always look at the next few on the list. Just remember that the first option is your cheapest overall plan for the year.
We have put together a cheat sheet, which includes screenshots and specific instructions for every step. You can download the Medicare Part D Cheat Sheet below.
[Read More: How Do I Find the Best Medicare Part D Drug Plan?]
Which Plan Should I Choose?
The goal is to choose the Part D prescription drug plan that:
- Is the cheapest plan
- Has the highest star rating
Sometimes, a low rating can mean that a company has bad customer service or their rates go up unexpectedly in the middle of the year.
A company with a 4 or 5-star rating often means that its customer service is reliable, and the rates tend to stay the same. There are always exceptions to this rule, but this is the general rule of thumb.
So, it’s somewhat of a balancing act, but try to choose the plan that has the cheapest annual cost with the highest overall star rating.
Remember to sort your drug plan options by lowest drug + premium cost – not just the monthly premium.
Sometimes, a plan is cheaper overall, but the monthly premium might be higher. The lowest drug + premium cost will factor in the premium, deductible, copayments, and coinsurance, which is what really matters.
If you’re not sure which plan to choose, a Medicare Allies agent can help. Please don’t hesitate to call us here at Medicare Allies – we’re happy to compare drug plans for you and narrow down your choices. This service is 100% free!
In the meantime, grab the Medicare Part D Cheat Sheet, and start comparing drug costs!
Our team of dedicated, licensed agents can help you as little or as much as you need. Whether it’s answering a few questions about Medicare or creating a comprehensive Medicare Planner with you, we are your Medicare Allies.