6 Reasons to Choose a New Medicare Part D Plan

Check out the alternatives before sticking with your current plan in 2014.

What you need to know about enrolling in Medicare.
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Reduce your deductible. Just over half of prescription drug plans will charge a deductible in 2014, and most charge the maximum possible amount of $310 before any drug costs will be covered. The share of plans with a smaller deductible has declined from 24 percent in 2010 to just 4 percent in 2014. However, 47 percent of plans will charge no deductible in 2014, meaning retirees will get coverage on their first prescription, often in exchange for a higher monthly premium. "If you are worried about how your costs will be spread over the year, you could pay a little bit more in premiums to not have a deductible," says Elizabeth Hargrave, a senior research scientist at NORC at the University of Chicago.

Consider gap coverage. The Medicare Part D coverage gap begins once a retiree incurs $2,850 in prescription drug costs and ends after total drug costs hit $6,691 in 2014. No prescription drug plans will offer full gap coverage for all drugs on their formulary in 2014, but about 15 percent of plans will offer some coverage of generic or brand-name medications in the coverage gap beyond what the law requires in exchange for higher monthly premiums. "The plans that provide some additional coverage in the gap often have premiums that could be higher than the extra value that they get," Hoadley cautions.

Ease of using your benefits. Prescription drug plans are increasingly creating preferred pharmacy networks, and charging retirees higher prices if they don't fill their prescriptions at the preferred pharmacies. For example, copayments for a preferred brand drug will be $20 in a preferred pharmacy and $30 in another network pharmacy through the AARP Medicare Rx Saver Plus prescription drug plan. "Some people are willing to switch to the pharmacy that offers the best deal in a given plan," Hoadley says. "It's definitely important to take a look at whether the pharmacy you prefer is in the plan at all or in the preferred network."

[See: 12 Ways to Increase Your Social Security Payments.]

Even if you are happy with your current prescription drug plan, the coverage and out-of-pocket costs could change in 2014. "It makes sense to look beyond the premiums, because while that might be the amount people see every month, there are also the ongoing costs of how much you pay when you fill your prescription and...the deductible, and those can affect the total amount of money a person needs to spend out-of-pocket to be enrolled in their drug plan," Cubanski says. "It does make sense for people to take a little bit of time to see how their plan might be changing and what that means for them on an individual basis."