Medicare and Prescription Drug Coverage

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medicare drug coverage
August 14, 2023 | Johanna Karlsson

How Medicare Covers Prescriptions

Figuring out your health insurance needs should include a realistic grasp of a potentially big out-of-pocket cost: your prescription medication needs. Luckily, Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage Plan is possible to help shield you from these costs, but it’s important to make sure you have the right plans in place so Medicare premium covers the prescriptions that you need.

If you’re wondering does Medicare cover prescriptions, the answer is yes — if you have the right plans. Let’s explore how the different parts of Medicare handle this component of healthcare spending:

  • Medicare Part A: This hospital insurance typically covers drugs you receive during hospital stays or at a skilled nursing facility. It may also cover some home healthcare services, but it generally does not include most prescription drugs you’d take at home.
  • Medicare Part B: This medical insurance covers certain medications administered in a clinical setting — think things like drugs infused or injected during an office visit or medications used with durable medical equipment, like a nebulizer or external infusion pump. Part B also covers a limited number of outpatient prescription drugs, usually those that aren’t self-administered, such as some types of chemotherapy.
  • Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage): Medicare Advantage plans are offered by private companies approved by Medicare. They cover everything Parts A and B do, and most also offer prescription drug coverage, similar to Part D. Check with the specific plan to see what drugs are covered because each plan has its own formulary or list of covered drugs.
  • Medicare Part D (Prescription Drug Coverage): This is specifically designed to provide coverage for prescription drugs. Part D is provided through private insurance companies that have contracts with the government. It is available to everyone with Medicare, and each Part D plan has its own list of covered drugs, known as a formulary, which must include a wide range of generic and brand-name prescription drugs.

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The Role of Medicare Part D in Prescription Drug Coverage

Now that you understand how Medicare Part D can come into play, let’s explore this important plan, including the costs for drug coverage, who is eligible, and how to enroll in this optional benefit that covers prescription drugs.

  • What It Covers: Medicare Part D plans cover a wide range of generic and brand-name prescription drugs. Each Part D plan has a formulary, or list of covered drugs, and drugs are placed into different “tiers” on the formulary. Each tier costs a different amount. It’s important to check a plan’s formulary to make sure it covers the prescription drugs you need.
  • Costs: Costs for Medicare drug coverage under Part D plans vary and may include premiums, deductibles, and copayments or coinsurance. Premiums are usually paid monthly, and the amount can depend on the plan you choose, whether you qualify for Extra Help, and if you pay a late enrollment penalty. The deductible is the amount you must pay for your prescriptions before your plan begins to pay. After you meet your deductible, you pay copayments (fixed amounts) or coinsurance (a percentage of the cost) for your drugs.
  • Eligibility and Enrollment: If you have Medicare Part A or Part B, you are eligible for Part D. You can enroll when you first become eligible for Medicare (Initial Enrollment Period), during the annual Open Enrollment Period from October 15 to December 7, or during a Special Enrollment Period if you qualify. The enrollment process can be completed in several ways: through Medicare’s Plan Finder, by calling Medicare, by visiting the plan’s website, or by completing a paper enrollment form. Once enrolled, you will receive a membership card and materials with information on how to get your prescriptions.

It’s important to compare Part D plans each year during the Open Enrollment Period because formularies and costs can change from year to year. Also, your prescriptions may change, so you’ll want to ensure your plan still provides the best coverage for your needs.

does medicare cover prescription drugs

Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage Gap

Any discussion about prescriptions and Medicare will inevitably end up discussing a seemingly complicated topic: the so-called “Donut Hole.” This Medicare drug coverage gap is a temporary limit on what most Medicare prescription drug coverage plans or Medicare Advantage plans will cover for your medications.

In addition to understanding the Donut Hole and Medicare drug coverage, it’s essential to consider other aspects of your financial planning, such as life insurance cost. Life insurance can provide financial security for your loved ones, and the cost of life insurance varies based on factors like your age, health, and coverage needs. Evaluating your life insurance options is an integral part of your overall financial well-being and planning for the future.

Once you and your prescription Medicare coverage have spent a certain amount of money or covered drugs, including your deductible, co-payment, and coinsurance, you’ll enter the coverage gap. In 2021, this limit was $4,130, and once you were in that gap, you’d pay no more than 25% of the plan’s cost for covered brand-name prescription drugs and generics. Not everyone will enter the coverage gap as it depends on the total drug costs and the specific plan.

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After you had spent $6,550 out-of-pocket in 2021, you’d exit the “Donut Hole” and enter the catastrophic coverage phase — and then you’d only pay a small coinsurance amount or copayment for the remainder of the year. There are several strategies to manage your costs while in the coverage gap, including checking if you qualify for Extra Help, a Medicare program that helps people with limited income and resources pay prescription drug costs. Switching to lower-cost or generic drugs can also cut down prescription spending, and some states offer State Pharmaceutical Assistance Programs that can help.

During Fall Prevention Month, it’s not only essential to focus on safety but also to consider your healthcare costs, including those related to prescription medications. Being informed about options like Extra Help and state assistance programs can significantly impact your financial well-being while ensuring you receive necessary medications.

Strategies to Lower Prescription Costs Under Medicare 

Now that you understand how a Part D plan works and when a “Donut Hole” could come into play, let’s discuss some ways to lower your prescription Medicare coverage costs.

  1. Generic Drugs: Generic drugs can be significantly less expensive than their brand-name counterparts, yet they have the same effectiveness. Talk to your healthcare provider about whether there are suitable generic options for any brand-name medication you’re currently taking.
  2. Medicare Extra Help: Medicare offers an income-based program called Extra Help to assist people with limited resources in covering prescription drug costs.
  3. Medicare Advantage: Some Medicare Advantage plans (Part C) offer prescription drug coverage, potentially at a lower cost than a standalone Part D plan.
  4. Use Preferred Pharmacies: Some Medicare Part D or Medicare Advantage plans have preferred pharmacies where you can get drugs at a lower cost.
  5. State Pharmaceutical Assistance Programs: Many states offer assistance programs that help pay prescription drug costs.
  6. Check the Formulary: Each Medicare drug plan has its formulary, or list of drugs that the plan covers. Make sure your medications are on your drug plan’s formulary.
  7. Review Your Plan: Your needs and your plan’s coverage, formulary, and costs can change annually. Make sure to review your coverage each year during the Medicare Open Enrollment Period to see if you need to switch plans.
  8. Look for Alternatives: Discuss with your healthcare provider if there’s a less expensive drug that treats the same condition as your current medication.
  9. Patient Assistance Programs: Many pharmaceutical companies offer patient assistance programs that provide uninsured and low-income people access to prescription drugs.
  10. Medigap: If you’re eligible, a Medigap policy might help pay for your prescription drugs under certain conditions.

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Getting the Most Out of Your Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage

Make the most out of your Medicare drug coverage by being proactive and keeping up with the latest plan costs and rules. This one step can make a big difference in your overall spending on healthcare each year, so it’s worth your time to get it right.

Remember to compare your prescriptions and Medicare coverage annually, because Part D or Medicare Advantage plans can change their formulary, costs, and pharmacy network. Also make sure you really understand your plan’s formulary, or list of prescription drugs it covers, and check the pharmacy network to make sure your required medications and preferred pharmacy will be covered.

Some plans offer mail-order services to get a 90-day supply of your medications, and this could save you money. If you qualify, the Medicare Extra Help program or state assistance programs may be able to help you pay for these costs as well.

And don’t forget to understand your plan’s coverage rules that cover things like prior authorization and quantity limits, and if a prescription drug you need isn’t covered, consider appealing the plan’s coverage decision.

By following these tips, you can make the most of your Medicare prescription drug coverage and potentially reduce your medication costs. If you want to start looking into your options to cover prescription drugs with a Part D or Medicare Advantage plan, call the Health Plus Life team to get started. We’re ready to help.

FAQs about Prescription Medicare Coverage

What is Medicare drug coverage and why is it important?

Medicare drug coverage, also known as Medicare Part D, helps beneficiaries cover the cost of prescription medications. It’s important because it can significantly lower drug costs and protect against higher costs in the future, ensuring beneficiaries can access the medications they need.

How does Medicare help in covering prescription drug costs?

Medicare Part D helps cover the cost of prescription drugs. Depending on the specific plan, it may cover certain generic and brand-name medications. Additionally, if a beneficiary spends a certain amount on drugs, they might qualify for Extra Help, a program that provides financial assistance for medication costs.

What are the different parts of Medicare and which ones cover prescription drugs?

Medicare is divided into four parts. Part A covers hospital insurance, Part B covers medical insurance, Part C, also known as Medicare Advantage, is an alternative to Parts A and B and is provided by private companies approved by Medicare. Part D covers prescription drugs. Both Medicare Part D and many Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage) plans cover prescription drugs.

What is Medicare Part D coverage and who is eligible for it?

Medicare Part D is prescription drug coverage offered by private insurance companies but approved and regulated by Medicare. Everyone with Medicare is eligible for this coverage, regardless of income and resources, health status, or current prescription expenses.

What is the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap or “Donut Hole”?

The Medicare prescription drug coverage gap, also known as the “Donut Hole,” is a temporary limit on what a Medicare Part D plan will cover for prescription drugs. Once you and your plan have spent a certain amount on covered drugs, you’re in the “donut hole” and you’ll pay more out-of-pocket for your medications.

How can one lower their prescription drug costs while under Medicare?

To lower drug costs under Medicare, beneficiaries can consider switching to lower-cost or generic drugs, exploring therapeutic alternatives, asking for an Exception if a needed drug isn’t covered, applying for Extra Help, or exploring other state and local programs that help reduce drug costs. More general information about prescription drug coverage is available from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

How can beneficiaries fully utilize the benefits of Medicare prescription drug coverage?

Beneficiaries can fully utilize the benefits of Medicare prescription drug coverage by understanding their plan’s formulary (list of covered drugs), using in-network pharmacies, asking about generic alternatives, and reviewing their plan each year during the Open Enrollment Period to make sure it still meets their needs. If the plan isn’t meeting their needs, they should consider switching plans. Remember that a Medicare Advantage plan or Medicare Part D plan can be an important aspect of covering your needs with the overall health insurance options.

Johanna Karlsson
Johanna Karlsson is a veteran health and life insurance professional licensed in 50 states. She relocated from the countryside in the south of Sweden and has not looked back. After coming to the United States to attend university, she gained her degree in Public Relations. She brought her public relations skills to a local international health insurance where she discovered a new passion in insurance. After years with that company, Johanna now joins HealthPlusLife to help build a team of licensed insurance agents ready to meet your insurance needs.