Medicare Part D Premiums Will Rise Dramatically

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
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Over 2 million low-income Medicare beneficiaries may face a disruption to their prescription drug coverage in January. Changes to the 2009 Medicare Part D plans will force low income beneficiaries to switch plans or face premiums they cannot afford or limit access to their prescriptions, according to a new report by the National Senior Citizens Law Center (NSCLC).

The Low Income Subsidy (LIS) program provides premium assistance to over 9 million low-income seniors and individuals with disabilities. Beneficiaries only receive the full subsidy benefit if they enroll in plans with premiums below an amount set by Medicare. Because benefits are administered through private companies, premium costs change from year-to-year as do the plans that are fully subsidized.

Approximately 25% of subsidy recipients are currently enrolled fully subsidized plans in 2008 that will not be subsidy-eligible in 2009. These beneficiaries will need to switch plans to avoid paying a premium in 2009. 1.6 million of these beneficiaries will be reassigned to a new plan by Medicare. But since Medicare's reassignment process does not consider the prescription needs of the beneficiary, the new plan may not cover their drugs.

The remaining 620,000 impacted Low Income Subsidy recipients must change plans themselves to avoid the new premium costs in January. It is likely that many beneficiaries will not understand the importance of changing plans.

"We are getting the word out to help beneficiaries avoid a disruption in access to their medications," said Kevin Prindiville of NSCLC. "Beneficiaries need to make sure that their 2009 plan covers the drugs they need."

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Plan choice under Part D is shrinking, particularly for those who benefit from the Low Income Subsidy. LIS recipients face increasing obstacles in finding affordable plans that cover their medications. Between 2008 and 2009, the total number of LIS plans offered decreased in all but one state. The number of LIS plans offered across all states decreased by nearly 40% between 2008 and 2009.

"2009 may find low income beneficiaries unable to access their prescription medication, paying a monthly premium that they cannot afford, or both," said Hector Javier Preciado of the Greenlining Institute.

Today's report recommends changes to the Part D system that would reduce annual disruption to low income beneficiaries, including:

-- Establishing a Medicare-administered Part D plan to provide enrollees the same options and choices they have in other parts of the Medicare program; and

-- Improving the reassignment process so that it also takes a beneficiary's known prescription needs into account.

Beneficiaries seeking assistance about their 2009 coverage should contact their local State Health Insurance Assistance Program.

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