(HealthNewsDigest.com) - With Medicare's 2014 open enrollment set to begin next week, a new Kaiser Family Foundation analysis shows that relatively few Medicare beneficiaries have used the annual opportunity to switch Part D prescription drug plans voluntarily -- even though those who do switch often lower their out-of-pocket costs as a result of changing plans.
The analysis, To Switch or Not to Switch: Are Medicare Beneficiaries Switching Drug Plans To Save Money?, finds that, on average, one in eight (13%) Part D enrollees switched plans voluntarily during each of the four annual enrollment periods between 2006 and 2010. The vast majority (87% on average over the four years) stayed in the same Part D plan, even though the plans can change premiums, deductibles, cost-sharing amounts, and their list of covered drugs each year. Beneficiaries who did switch plans voluntarily were more likely to pay lower premiums the following year than those who stayed in the same plan -- but were only slightly less likely to pay lower out-of-pocket costs for their drugs during the year.
A second Foundation analysis examines newly available information about the stand-alone drug plan options available to beneficiaries in 2014, in advance of Medicare's annual enrollment period, which runs from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7. During this time, beneficiaries are able to choose or change Part D drug plans and Medicare Advantage plans, as well as move between traditional Medicare and a Medicare Advantage plan.
Medicare Part D: A First Look at Plan Offerings in 2014 finds Medicare beneficiaries on average will have a choice of 35 stand-alone drug plans, somewhat more plan options than they had last year. The weighted average premium for enrollees across these plans will increase by 5 percent between 2013 and 2014 if enrollees remain in the same plans next year. The year-to-year change varies widely among the most popular plans, with some raising premiums by 50 percent and others lowering them by nearly 40 percent.
The analysis also finds more plans are using preferred pharmacy networks and adopting a growing number of cost-sharing tiers for different drugs, both of which could affect beneficiaries' out-of-pocket costs depending on where they fill their prescriptions and the type of drugs they take.
Both analyses are authored by researchers at the Foundation, Georgetown University, and NORC at the University of Chicago. The Foundation plans to issue analyses of the Medicare Advantage plan changes for 2014 in the near future.
The Kaiser Family Foundation, a leader in health policy analysis, health journalism and communication, is dedicated to filling the need for trusted, independent information on the major health issues facing our nation and its people. The Foundation is a non-profit private operating foundation, based in Menlo Park, California.
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