Prescription drugs too costly? Changing your health plan could save money

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Every year, health plans offer open enrollment – a time to reassess your benefits and select new options.

But is it worth the hassle to change plans?

For people with expensive prescription drugs, switching plans could save them thousands of dollars in copays.

And a simple tool can help people easily compare out-of-pockets expenses for anyone with a Medicare Part D prescription plan.

“Understanding how out-of-pocket spending varies for prescription drugs is important for patients, physicians and policymakers.

With this awareness, patients can pick the best Medicare Part D plan to reduce out-of-pocket drug costs and mitigate financial toxicity of health care,” said Kristian Stensland, M.D., M.S., M.P.H., assistant professor of urology at Michigan Medicine.

Stensland is leading a team of researchers at the University of Michigan Health Rogel Cancer Center and the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation who want to make people more broadly aware of Part D open enrollment and specifically the free Medicare Plan Finder tool that makes comparing costs easy.

The plan finder, which is funded by the United States Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is available online at

Patients enter their zip code and prescription drugs; the finder displays estimated annual out-of-pocket costs for local retail and mail order pharmacies.

Medicare’s open enrollment runs from Oct. 15 – Dec. 7 every year, during which time people can switch plans.

More than 49 million Americans are enrolled in Medicare Part D, and some patients have up to 50 different plans to choose from.

Despite significant cost differences, fewer than 30% of patients report comparing drug plan pricing.

In a recent study that used the plan finder to evaluate the cost of two drugs commonly prescribed for prostate cancer, researchers found that patients could potentially save $9,000 a year by comparing plans.

“Patients with Medicare Part D have dozens of different drug plans available to choose from, but most patients unfortunately are not aware of this.

If they compare estimated costs, they could save thousands of dollars each year in drug costs,” said Benjamin Pockros, M.D., M.B.A., a urology resident at Michigan Medicine.

“This could make a huge impact for patients with limited resources.”

The researchers created a video to promote using the plan finder during open enrollment, part of Michigan Medicine’s commitment to helping everyone find affordable health care.

In addition to the plan finder, many hospitals have financial counselors who can help with comparing health care plans.

IHPI will host a webinar on Oct. 27 about navigating open enrollment. It’s part of the institute’s Healthy Aging Series. Learn more and register.

Funding for this work is from the University of Michigan’s Rogel Cancer Center and Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation. In addition to Stensland and Pockros, IHPI member Chad Ellimootil, M.D., M.S., and Rogel and IHPI member Megan Caram, M.D., are also part of the project.

Written by Nicole Fawcett.

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