Monday, October 25, 2010

Medicare 2011: The Rules Keep Changing

Part II of a Two-Part Series

Part I of this series explained enrollment period changes impacting Medicare Health & Drug Plans; and in this Part we’ll share changes being made to Medicare Part D drug benefits. For our readers who may not be familiar with Medicare Part D, we’ll start out by providing an overview of the program mechanics.

Medicare Part D drug coverage is available to Medicare Beneficiaries enrolled in Part A and/or Part B. Beneficiaries access this voluntary program through insurance carriers and can get their coverage through a standalone Prescription Drug Plan (PDP) or a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug (MA-PD) plan (must have both Medicare Parts A and B to enroll in MA-PD).

PDPs and MA-PDs operate on a calendar year basis and provide drug coverage in accordance with the following parameters:

• The plan deductible cannot exceed $310 (many plans have a $0 deductible)

• After the deductible is reached, the Beneficiary is responsible for paying drug co-pays according to the “tier” level of each drug as shown in the plan’s formulary (medicines that don’t appear on the formulary aren’t covered at all)

• When the combined total of the Beneficiary's payments and the insurance company's contributions reaches $2,830, the Beneficiary enters the coverage gap (the infamous “donut hole”)

• While in the coverage gap, the Beneficiary is required to pay for all prescription drugs out-of-pocket

• Once the Beneficiary’s total out-of-pocket drug expenses reach $4,550, the Beneficiary is in the Catastrophic coverage period; and medicines on the formulary are now covered for just small co-payments until the end of the year

So what’s changing in 2011? First, the $2,830 calendar year threshold level to fall into the donut hole increases to $2,840; and second, Medicare beneficiaries will receive a substantial discount on their medicines while in the donut hole (a 50% discount on brand-name drugs and a 7% discount on generics).

The donut hole is filling up.

The Medicare Part D benefit will be further improved over the years, so that the donut hole will gradually fill up. Discounts for both brand-name and generic drugs are scheduled to increase every year until the donut hole is gone for good in 2020.

Click here for more detailed information on the Medicare Part D program.

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