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How to Choose and Enroll in a Medicare Part D Plan

Use these steps to compare Medicare prescription drug plans online with the Medicare Plan Finder

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Kotryna Zukauskaite

After you enroll in Medicare, you need to think about your prescription drug coverage.

Medicare doesn’t automatically cover prescription drugs, but you have two options. If you have original Medicare, you can sign up for a stand-alone Part D plan from a private insurer. Or you can get both medical and drug coverage from a private Medicare Advantage plan.

Unless you have other comparable drug coverage — from a current employer, a former employer or Tricare — you’ll need to sign up for coverage within a certain time. If you miss your deadline, you’ll have to pay a late enrollment penalty.

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If you don’t have creditable coverage, the best time to sign up for a Part D plan is during the seven-month initial enrollment period surrounding your 65th birthday — even if you don’t take daily medications now.

The average Medicare beneficiary has 24 stand-alone Medicare Part D plans to choose from. When choosing a Part D plan, look at premiums, as well as coverage for your prescriptions. A plan with low premiums may cost you more by the end of the year if it charges high copayments for your medications.

But Part D plans can change their costs and covered drugs annually. So it’s a good idea to compare your options during open enrollment every year, which runs Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 for new coverage starting Jan. 1.

7 steps to sign up for a Part D plan

The best way to compare Part D plans offered in your area is to use Medicare’s Plan Finder tool. Here’s a step-by-step guide. 

1. You have two options: Use your online Medicare account or click Continue without logging in and enter your ZIP code. You may also be asked to select your county. Click on Medicare Drug Plan (Part D) | Find Plans.

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2. Indicate if you get help with your medical expenses. If you’re not sure, you can find out by logging in to your Medicare account.

3. If you don’t receive financial help, you’ll be asked if you want to see your drug costs when you compare plans. Click Yes, so you can get a sense of how much you would spend with each plan.

4. Enter the names of your medications. Be sure to include ones you take regularly, so you’ll get a good estimate of ongoing costs. You’ll also need to select the dosage and quantity and indicate how frequently you need to refill your prescriptions. To add another medication, click Add Another Drug. When you’re finished, click Done Adding Drugs.

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5. Next, choose up to five pharmacies to fill your prescriptions. Many plans charge lower copayments for preferred pharmacies. You can see how plans work with your pharmacies and copayments for each plan. Enter your pharmacy names or search by your address or ZIP code. When you’re finished selecting pharmacies, click Done.

6. You’ll see a list of drug plans in your area. You can sort the plans in three ways: Lowest drug + Premium cost (the default), Lowest yearly drug deductible and Lowest monthly premium. Compare plans by looking at each plan’s total drug and premium cost.

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To compare premiums as well as costs for your covered drugs, click Plan Details. This will give you a monthly estimate of what you’ll pay for your medications.

Make sure your prescriptions are part of a plan’s formulary — its list of regularly covered drugs. Use this time to see if any of your medications require prior authorization before you purchase them.

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7. To sign up for a Part D plan, click Enroll. You’ll need your Medicare number and the date your parts A and B coverage began. You may also be able to enroll with an insurance agent or by calling 800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227).

To sign up directly with the private insurer, click Plan Details for the plan’s phone number and website. You can also request an application and mail it. An insurance agent may be able to help you enroll.

For help signing up for a Part D plan, contact your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP).

How to pay for Medicare Part D

After you’ve signed up, you’ll pay monthly Part D premiums to the insurance company, either billed directly to you or through automatic payments. You can request that your premium be deducted from your monthly Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board payment.

Medicare beneficiaries with low incomes and few assets may qualify for the federal Extra Help program, which provides financial assistance to pay for Part D premiums, deductibles and copayments.

If your modified adjusted gross income is more than $103,000 if you’re single or $206,000 if you’re married and filing jointly, you may face a high-income surcharge, which adds from $12.90 to $81 to your monthly premiums in 2024. You’ll pay the surcharge to Medicare.

Will Medicare Part D Pay for All of My Prescription Drugs?

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