Why it pays to shop your Medicare coverage this fall

Your Medicare prescription drug plan sent you a letter recently. Chances are, you didn’t read it – and that could be costing you money.

Health insurance companies must send an annual notice of changes for the coming year to Part D prescription drug and Part C Medicare Advantage plans. The notice, which must be delivered to you by Sept. 30 each year, details changes in premiums and co-pays, and lets you know whether your medication will be covered in the year ahead.

The notice comes just before the annual plan enrollment period, which kicks off on Oct. 15 and runs until Dec. 7. It’s your signal that it’s time to re-shop your coverage.

But a study released last fall by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that, on average, just 13 percent of enrollees voluntarily switched their drug plans over four recent enrollment periods. The switching rate is nearly identical for those in for Advantage plans, the all-in-one managed-care option offered to Medicare beneficiaries.

That’s unfortunate, since plenty of people are leaving money on the table. The Kaiser study found that 46 percent of plan switchers saved at least 5 percent the following year, mainly on premiums.

Seniors who use traditional fee-for-service Medicare need only check on their drug coverage. Most Medicare Advantage plans wrap in drug coverage, so enrollees can usually make a single shopping trip there, too.

Medicare cost inflation has been moderate for several years, and will continue to be in 2015. The average Part

D premium will drop from $39.88 in 2014 to $38.95 next year, according to Avalere Health, a research and consulting firm.

But a close look at the 10 most popular plans shows why it is important to evaluate coverage annually. Premium changes will vary significantly. For example, average premiums for Aetna’s Medicare Rx Saver plan will fall 31 percent, but the average rate premium for while WellCare’s Classic plan will jump 52 percent on average.

Learn more about the annual enrollment season, and check the RetirementRevised guides to shopping Medicare Part D prescription drug plans and Medicare Advantage plans.