Journalist Philip Moeller, who writes widely on health and retirement, is here to provide the Medicare answers you need in “Ask Phil, the Medicare Maven.” Send your questions to Phil.
Linda: This is INSANE! Whoever came up with this Medicare Rx plan was just a crazy person who cannot think straight. When I’m on the Medicare.gov website, I can only compare three plans at any one time, but I get a total list of 28 plans available to me in the state of Colorado. None of them tell me what the copays will be for 2016 nor do they have the formulary easily available. So far, I’ve gotten two sets of comparisons, but this is still not enough to make an informed decision. During open enrollment each year, I spend hours and hours of time trying to find a plan that I can afford along with the meds that I need. But I am not a seer and have no way to divine what ailments I might have during the entire year of 2016! This is just insane, and I know it’s hopeless to complain, but this year I felt that I must. I’m just 69 and still have my faculties. What in the world do older folks do who don’t have their senses anymore? Not that any aspect of the plan makes sense anyway. I guess it’s just designed to get most people to just stick with one plan, pay through the nose and get every last dollar squeezed out of us senior folks.
Phil Moeller: There’s not much I can add to what Linda says. I share her experiences in the hope that it will be seen by the folks who oversee Medicare at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Medicare’s Plan Finder will allow Linda to enter all the prescription drugs she now takes, see if they’re in the formularies of Colorado drug plans and get a rough idea of how much they will cost her. But when I did this for my ZIP code using the prescription drugs I take, I still got a list with far, far too many plans to compare. And as Linda notes, Plan Finder tells you little about the drugs you are not taking. In its defense, there are a zillion drugs, so expecting Plan Finder to tell you about all of the drugs you might take doesn’t make sense (at least to me). But it would be great if Plan Finder included links to plan formularies so folks like Linda can more easily find out which meds are covered by which plans. I would advise Linda to do the best she can based on plan costs using her current drugs. I’d look at maximum out-of-pocket costs for the plans plus the convenience of the plans’ available pharmacies. Linda can enter her preferred pharmacies as part of the plan screening process, so perhaps this will help weed out plans that don’t make sense for her. Rather than stick with the same plan, she and others should purchase whatever plan in 2016 offers the best combination of cost and pharmacy convenience. Limiting the search to plans rated highly by Medicare, using its one to five star ratings system, may further narrow the list. And as Linda knows, this is only a one-year decision. If she is not happy with her choice, she gets to pick a new plan next year.
Philip Moeller is a research fellow at the Center on Aging & Work at Boston College and co-author of “How to Live to 100.”
He wrote his latest book, “How to Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security,” with Making Sen$e’s Paul Solman and Larry Kotlikoff. He is now working on a companion book about Medicare.