NEW TOOLS AVAILABLE TO HELP WITH MEDICARE PRESCRIPTION DRUG PLAN CHOICES FOR 2007
Medicare has made enhancements to www.medicare.gov that will provide new help for people with Medicare prescription drug coverage who want to consider changing plans, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced today. The changes will make it easier for beneficiaries to get personalized information about their coverage options and costs for 2007. With the enhancements to the website, beneficiaries who want to find out more about their Medicare drug plan choices can do so before open enrollment begins on November 15.
“Almost four million people with Medicare have enrolled online in a drug plan themselves, and millions more got help from friends, family members, and counselors who used Medicare’s online tools,” said CMS Administrator Mark B. McClellan, M.D., Ph.D. “Based on feedback we received from beneficiaries, we have added new features to help beneficiaries get the most out of their Medicare coverage options, build on the high beneficiary satisfaction rates and take advantage of the low costs we’ve been seeing so far.”
In addition to new 2007 plan year information, updates to the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Finder web tool include a cleaner look, increased usability, and reduced page scrolling and includes a Monthly Cost Estimator, a personalized chart illustrating 12 months of expected drug spending for each plan. New features help users compare plans based on price and benefit structure, estimate how their monthly costs may vary over the course of the year, and print clear reports they can refer to later.
By using the Plan Finder, beneficiaries can focus on the plan features that they find most important, such as premiums, formularies, or the availability of coverage in the gap. The tool can sort plans based on estimated annual costs, or narrow the search based on the particular features that consumers find most important to them personally, such as premiums, formularies, flat copays, low or no deductibles, or coverage in the gap. The tool also helps beneficiaries budget for their prescription drug costs by including a Monthly Cost Estimator that displays a personalized chart of expected monthly costs under each plan.
“If you are satisfied with your current plan and want to stay with it, you don’t need to take any further action,” Dr. McClellan said. “If you want to consider other options, we have enhanced the tools that make it easier to get the coverage that’s right for you.”
People without web access can get the benefits of all of the online, personalized plan comparison tools by calling 1-800 MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), visiting their local State Health Insurance Assistance Program office for free personalized counseling, or attending one of the thousands of local enrollment events taking place across the country from now through December.
Beneficiaries will also receive a copy of the 2007 Medicare & You handbook this month, which includes tips on selecting a plan and an overview of options. Beneficiaries already enrolled in a Part D plan will also receive an Annual Notice of Changes that describes any changes in the benefits of their current plan.
“Beneficiaries will have more access to plans that offer enhanced benefits, and they will get larger discounts on average on their drug prices,” said Dr. McClellan. “For 2007, the tools show that, across all stand-alone prescription drug plans, overall beneficiary costs are typically going up by just a few percent, with many commonly used sets of drugs available at a lower total cost in many plans. In other words, many beneficiaries MAY actually spend less next year than they are spending in 2006.”
The Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Finder allows users to compare their current drug plan to other coverage options for 2007 that may be a good fit. People using the tool will find plans offering lower premiums, price discounts that are larger on average than those available in 2006, coverage of more drugs, and less utilization management. Users will also find more plans offering coverage in the gap for both generics and brand-name drugs.
As part of an ongoing analysis of overall savings on drug costs, CMS found that, for the commonly-used drugs that CMS has been tracking since the drug benefit began, savings will average 53 percent compared to not having coverage, up to a maximum of 68 percent through the lowest-cost plans available. In addition, as a result of strong competition, a broader range of plans provide large savings on any particular sets of drugs. And for beneficiaries who switch to lower-cost generic drugs (which work identically to the brand-name drugs) and to very similar “preferred” drugs in the same drug classes, very large savings are possible in many plans. Savings may be as large as 87 percent.
Compared to the 2006 plans, savings are larger and are more widely available. These savings are available for the most common prescription drugs used for chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis, among others.