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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Better coverage for Medicare enrollees

Michealle Gady

Staff Writer

Despite months of "the sky is falling" predictions from health reform’s opponents, Medicare Part D beneficiaries will not see huge increases in Medicare Part D premiums next year. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency that runs the Medicare program, recently announced that the average premium will only increase by a dollar, to about $30 a month.

At the same time, coverage will only get better. Normally, the Part D deductible increases each year—but next year, for the first time since the program began, the deductible will remain the same as it was this year—$310. In addition, discounts start for those beneficiaries who reach the “doughnut hole,” or the gap in coverage. If a beneficiary reaches the coverage gap next year, he or she will receive a 50% discount on brand name drugs and a 7% discount on generic drugs. This is only the first step in closing the gap—these discounts will increase over the years until the gap is completely closed.

While this is good news, it will be important for beneficiaries to check with their plans to find out what they can expect to pay next year. The $1 increase to the premium is an average—each individual plan determines its own premium, and some plans will probably have bigger increases. Plans can also change their copayments and what they cover each year. And every year, some plans are discontinued or merged with other plans. It will be of utmost importance that beneficiaries review any plan information that they receive in the fall.

If you would like to learn more about the improvements to the Medicare Part D program or other changes to the Medicare program visit the senior section of Healthcare.gov. For additional information on picking plans, contact your local State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). In addition, those who are having trouble affording their prescription drugs may qualify for assistance with premiums and out-of-pocket expenses—you can find out more about that on the Social Security website