How Do I Sign Up for Medicare Part D?

Enrolling in Medicare is confusing enough already, but with the advent of Medicare Part D in 2006, Medicare changed the enrollment process even further. The result is that consumers generally procrastinate on signing up for Medicare because they aren’t quite sure what to do.

Delaying your Part D drug coverage can result in a late enrollment penalty, so here are some simple steps that you can follow to successfully enroll in Medicare Part D:

Skip the Social Security Office

Although you sign up for Original Medicare Parts A & B via the Social Security Administration, Medicare Part D is offered by private insurance carriers. The concept is a bit tricky, but essentially, you will just choose one of the various Part D drug plans offered by insurance companies in your state. After you enroll, the carrier notifies Medicare that you have enrolled in Part D. It’s that simple.

Start with a List of your Medications

Comparison would be easier if there were just a few choices for your Part D drug plan, but in most states, you will have some 20 – 30 different options. Sometimes too many choices can be overwhelming. The good news is that if you can just make a list of your medications, there are free tools available to you that will make sorting through the drug plans very easy.

When you put together your list, you will need to write down the name of the drug, the dosage that you take, and how often you take the medicine. It’s also very important that you list the name of the medication that appears on your prescription bottle, because brand name drugs cost more than generics. If you take a generic version of the medication, it’s critical that you list the generic drug name. For example, if you take a 20mg dose once a day of the generic version of Zocor, then what you will write down on your list is: Simvastatin – 20mg, once daily.

Visit Medicare’s Part D Drug Plan Finder

Medicare has created an online search engine for you that you can use to compare all the drug plans in the state. This site, Medicare.gov, will allow you to enter in your exact medications, dosages and frequency as well as your favorite pharmacy. Then the engine will search all the plans available in your residential zip code and rank them in order from most cost effective to least cost effective. Almost always, the top plans on the list will be the best bang for your buck.

The neat thing about the engine is that it considers all cost factors. It factors in the monthly premium that you will pay for each drug plan, the deductible spending you might incur on each plan, and the co-pays offered by the plans for your specific medications. Sometimes you will find that the number one drug plan has a premium of say, $40/month, while a plan further down on the list costs $25/month. Rest assured that the $40/month plan is still likely best for you. If you click on the plan and review the information, you can usually see why. Perhaps the cheaper plan doesn’t cover one of your medications and therefore enrolling in it would actually cause you to pay more out of pocket because you would be buying that one medication at retail cost.

Bottom line: trust the Medicare.gov search engine. It’s the best tool we have, and if later on you add new prescriptions, you can rest assured that all drug plans are required to carry at least 2 medications from each therapeutic class. Even if you get diagnosed with a new medical condition mid-year, your drug plan’s formulary will offer at least 2 medications that treat that condition. You can also change your drug plan once a year, so if your needs change, you can choose another plan during the fall annual election period which runs from October 15th – December 7th.

Enroll in the Drug Plan

There are several ways to enroll in Part D. Once you have found the plan that looks most suitable for you, you can enroll in one of several ways. First, the Medicare website itself has a button which you can click to enroll in the plan you have chosen, provided that you have a valid election period, like being new to Medicare, etc. You can also call the plan directly to enroll over the phone, or you can call 1-800-MEDICARE to sign up by telephone.

Another suggestion is to work with a licensed insurance agent who specializes in Medicare insurance products. An agent can run the Part D analysis for you and tell you the details you need to know about the top one or two plans. There is no charge to work with an agent either; they get paid by the insurance company for assisting you.

Finally, keep in mind that Part D has mandated election periods. You can only enroll or disenroll during certain times of the year. Your agent can assist you with this as well so that you enroll properly with no delays in coverage.

Danielle Kunkle is a Medicare Supplement Accredited Advisor whose agency, Boomer Benefits, assists Medicare beneficiaries across the nation with their Medigap and Part D drug plans.

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