Medicare beneficiaries aren’t switching drug plans

There’s an easy way for Medicare enrollees to save money when it comes to health coverage. Unfortunately most don’t do it.

A report released by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that Medicare enrollees can save quite a bit of cash when they switch prescription-drug plans. But just 13 percent of Part D enrollees switched plans voluntarily during each of the four annual enrollment periods between 2006 and 2010.

The vast majority (87 percent, on average over the four years) stayed in the same Part D plan, even though the plans can change premiums, deductibles, cost-sharing amounts and their list of covered drugs each year.

Beneficiaries who did switch plans voluntarily were more likely to pay lower premiums the following year than those who stayed in the same plan — but were only slightly less likely to pay lower out-of-pocket costs for their drugs during the year, researchers said.

Medicare enrollment begins Tuesday and runs through Dec. 7. During this time, beneficiaries are able to choose or change Part D drug plans and Medicare Advantage plans, as well as move between traditional Medicare and a Medicare Advantage plan.

Another Kaiser report found Medicare beneficiaries on average will have a choice of 35 stand-alone drug plans, somewhat more plan options than they had last year.

The weighted average premium for enrollees across these plans will increase by 5 percent between 2013 and 2014 if enrollees remain in the same plans next year. The year-to-year change varies widely among the most popular plans, with some raising premiums by 50 percent and others falling nearly 40 percent.

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