Whether they're enrolling in Medicare for the first time, or are veterans of the program who are considering a coverage plan switch, senior beneficiaries face a complex array of options during the annual Medicare Open Enrollment period.

One of the more important decisions faced by seniors during Open Enrollment is whether or not to switch their Medicare Part D (prescription medication coverage) plan.

A University of Pittsburgh study found that only about five percent of older adults are in the right Part D program.

According to research conducted by PlanPrescriber.com—a website that allows seniors to compare Medicare-related insurance products—the vast majority of beneficiaries are needlessly spending hundreds of additional dollars each year because they are signed up for sub-optimal prescription drug plans.

"The Medicare Part D plan selection process can be overwhelming to navigate on your own," says Papatya Tankut, vice president of professional pharmacy services at CVS pharmacy. The trickiest part, according to Tankut, is figuring out how to accurately compare the benefits of different plans against the backdrop of a senior's unique health needs.

A Complicated Choice

Why are so many seniors participating in the wrong plans? Many adults don't take the time to re-evaluate their Medicare coverage options each year—something that Tankut says is essential—especially when it comes to prescription drug coverage where plan specifics change from year-to-year. "Even if you're satisfied with your current plan, it makes sense to review the various plans available and explore your options," she says.

She offers a list of questions seniors and their caregivers should ask themselves when figuring out which prescription coverage plans to consider:

  • What will the total cost of a given plan be?
    Don't forget to include all of the different expenses of a particular plan, including: premiums, deductibles, prescription co-payments and annual out-of-pocket expenses, all of which can change annually.
  • Have your medications changed dramatically?
    Every plan doesn't cover every prescription. If you've been diagnosed with a chronic illness that requires you to take a whole new regimen of prescription medications, your current program may no longer offer sufficient coverage.
  • Are you planning on traveling a lot, or moving to a different area?
    Different Part D plan options are offered in different parts of the country. The program you had while living on your own may not be an option if you have to move in with your adult children who live out-of-state.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Advisor

Pharmacists are an often overlooked resource that can help caregivers and their loved ones make sense of the complicated compilation of Part D plans.

While they are forbidden from recommending particular plans, pharmacists can help seniors get organized and guide them through the process of making their own decisions on which prescription coverage program is best for their situation.

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"Preparation is important when selecting the best Medicare Part D plan," says Tankut. Who suggests making a list of all of a senior's current prescriptions, including quantities and dosage information. Pharmacists can provide the information necessary to compile this list.

They can also answer any questions a caregiver or aging adult may have regarding the enrollment process.

Many drugstores offer additional services to seniors seeking to find the best Part D program. CVS and Walgreens have partnered with eHealth to assist seniors with comparing and choosing the right Part D plan.

Seniors and their families are the ones that must ultimately make the final decisions during open enrollment, but being able to take advantage of pharmacists' knowledge can make picking the optimal plan infinitely easier.