Medicare Part D: The Successes and the Challenges

The Medicare Part D prescription drug program open enrollment season begins today, October 15, and runs until December 7.  This is the time all beneficiaries should be reviewing their current plans and shopping among their available options to make sure they are getting the best possible value in their prescription drug coverage.

The fact is that most Part D enrollees won’t spend a great deal of time checking out different prescription drug plans during this period.  When we analyze the reasons why, we see both good news and a message that a well-executed program could be carried out even more effectively.

The good news is that Medicare Part D enjoys overwhelming popularity, and people have a high rate of satisfaction with their current plan.  The Medicare Today coalition, which HLC founded at the launch of the Part D program, conducts an annual survey with KRC Research to fully understand how seniors view their Part D coverage.  This year’s survey showed a 90 percent satisfaction rate, the highest level in the seven years we’ve been doing this polling.

This high satisfaction rate stems from both the user-friendliness of the Part D program as well as its affordability.  Among the seniors surveyed, 94 percent say their plan is convenient to use and strong majorities say their monthly premiums (85 percent) and co-pays (86 percent) are affordable.

Two out of every three seniors say they are unlikely to shop for other Part D plans during this open enrollment period.  The good news is that 91 percent say they won’t shop because they’re satisfied with their current coverage.

But where there is room for improvement is in the finding that 61 percent of seniors say they are unaware of the PlanFinder tool created by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and located on the website.  The PlanFinder enables beneficiaries to easily type in the medications they’re taking and find out the list of plans that are the best value for their individual needs.  Every Medicare beneficiary should be aware of this tool.

So, despite the success of the Part D program, there’s no room for complacency.  The federal government, the private sector and non-profit advocacy organizations all have a responsibility to continue outreach to the Medicare beneficiary population, continuing to provide information on the Part D program and the consumer tools available to enrollees.  In this way, the consumer choice aspects of Medicare Part D that make the program so popular and affordable can achieve optimum value in bettering the lives of the millions who participate in this vitally important program.