If you're on Medicare, switching your drug plan in the next month could save you thousands of dollars next year.
But the switch also might mean changing pharmacies — a move that many senior citizens may not want to make.
Vicki Morgan was fortunate. The 67-year-old Omahan had to change drug plans because the one she's on now is being discontinued. Her current provider was going to move her into another plan, but she found a much cheaper plan at a Medicare review event.
How much cheaper? It will cost her $2,142 less than the one her provider was going to put her in. It's also $179 less than what she paid this year.
“I don't care how much you have in your retirement account,” Morgan said. “Trust me, every single penny counts.”
One difference in this year's open enrollment period is preferred pricing. Sue Fredricks, executive director for Volunteers Assisting Seniors in Omaha, said several prescription drug plans have made deals with certain pharmacies. In addition to saving the money, Morgan will be able to keep getting her five prescription medications at the Walgreens at 90th Street and West Center Road, which she has been using for years.
Open enrollment for people on the Medicare health plan and prescription drug plan runs until Dec. 7. You can go to Medicare's website, www.medicare.gov, to check the plans' costs and coverage, or you can get help from groups such as Volunteers Assisting Seniors or a state's Senior Health Insurance Information Program.
Many people don't even bother to compare plans, and thousands could be paying more than they need to. In Nebraska, more than 271,000 people get what's called Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage. In Iowa, the number tops 506,000.
Avalere Health's recent analysis of Part D costs found that some senior citizens could see double-digit premium increases in 2013. If they shop around, though, many could avoid the hikes.
In Morgan's case, the plan she was going to be switched to would have cost her $106.90 per month plus a copay of $98.66 per month. Fredricks was able to find Morgan another plan that will cost her $27.10 per month, with no copay.
It helps that Morgan uses generic drugs, which lower costs, Fredricks said. And, she said, it mattered that Morgan is using Walgreens; the drug plan Morgan will use next year wouldn't be priced as favorably at some other pharmacies.
But the big chains don't have a lock on all the good deals, Fredricks said.
“This year,” she said, “we were seeing some of the local pharmacies kind of in on the act.” Some drugs cost less at different pharmacies, she said.
People who log on to the Medicare website can enter up to 25 drugs and two pharmacies per search. Fredricks said it's likely a couple of searches will be needed to check the costs at several pharmacies.
“When you do enough of them,” she said, “you can kind of see when the stars are going to align.”
Joni Cover, executive vice president of the Nebraska Pharmacists Association, said price is important, but so is service.
“I would say that patients probably don't choose their physician or their dentist based on lower cost,” Cover said. “You should go to the pharmacy that you're most comfortable with, where the pharmacist takes good care of you.
“Hopefully the price-conscious (choice) and the great pharmacist are the same place.”
Fredricks said people who want to keep getting the best deal can't settle on a plan and stick with it for years. Sometimes, she said, plans will lure people to switch by offering low prices, then raise the prices the following year.
Morgan said she's glad she was able to stick with Walgreens for her drug plan. “I know everybody that works down there. It's just a neighborhood pharmacy where all the neighbors go.”
Would she switch if she could save another $1,000? “I would,” Morgan said. “I would do that.”
Contact the writer: 402-444-1109, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/bobglissmann
Schedule of remaining appointment-only Medicare enrollment events sponsored by Volunteers Assisting Seniors. Call 402-444-6617 for an appointment.
Today: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Volunteers Assisting Seniors office, 1941 S. 42nd St., Suite 502
Tuesday: 9 a.m. to noon, Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging, 4223 Center St.
Thursday: Noon to 3 p.m., Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging, 4223 Center St.
Tuesday, Nov. 13: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging, 4223 Center St.
Thursday, Nov. 15: Noon to 3 p.m., Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging, 4223 Center St.
Friday, Nov. 16: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Metro Community College, Elkhorn Campus, 829 N. 204th St.
Tuesday, Nov. 20: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging, 4223 Center St.
Tuesday, Nov. 27: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging, 4223 Center St.
Wednesday, Nov. 28: Noon to 3 p.m., Sump Memorial Library, 222 N. Jefferson St., Papillion
Thursday, Nov. 29: Noon to 3 p.m., Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging, 4223 Center St.
Monday, Dec. 3: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Volunteers Assisting Seniors office, 1941 S. 42nd St., Suite 502
Tuesday, Dec. 4: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging, 4223 Center St.
Wednesday, Dec. 5: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Immanuel AgeWell Center, 6801 N. 67th Plaza, Suite 100
Friday, Dec. 7: 8:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Volunteers Assisting Seniors office, 1941 S. 42nd St., Suite 502