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Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans in Washington

October 6, 2016

In the state of Washington, Medicare beneficiaries may be able to receive prescription drug coverage through different options, including enrollment in a stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan.  Medicare beneficiaries may sign up for a stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan to work alongside their Original Medicare coverage.

How Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans work in Washington

If you’re a Medicare beneficiary in Washington, you may be receiving health coverage through Original Medicare (which includes Part A and Part B), or a Medicare Advantage  plan that covers health benefits only. Neither of these Medicare insurance options provides prescription drug coverage except in cases of an inpatient hospital stay or, in some cases, a clinic setting where a prescription drug must be administered by a professional health-care provider. However, Medicare prescription drug coverage is available from Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plans, which includes Part A and Part B health benefits and prescription drug coverage, and from stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans.  Both types of Medicare plans with Part D prescription drug coverage are offered by private insurance companies contracted with Medicare.

If you are interested in a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan, however, you must have Part A and Part B to enroll.  You may enroll in a stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan if you have Original Medicare Part A and/or Part B and live in the plan’s service area.  Stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans can work alongside your Original Medicare coverage.  (You cannot have Medicare prescription drug coverage from both a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan and a stand-alone Part D Prescription Drug Plan simultaneously.) 

Each Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan in Washington has a list of covered prescription drugs called a formulary. Many Prescription Drug Plans divide their formularies of covered prescription drugs into tiers (or categories), with each tier having a distinct cost-share, which is the amount the plan member pays out-of-pocket for the medication. So, for example a Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan may have a generic and a brand name covered drug on two different tiers.  Typically the generic medication is on a tier with a lower out-of-pocket cost than the brand name drug.

In Washington, as in the rest of the United States, Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans generally allow you to choose between brand-name drugs and generic drugs. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) describes generic drugs as using the same active ingredients as brand-name drugs, at the same strength, dosage, and with the same method of administration. The FDA requires generics to be tested as having the same results as brand-name drugs. Generic drugs often cost less than their brand-name equivalent, resulting in cost savings for Medicare beneficiaries.

When you can enroll in Medicare Part D in Washington

If you are eligible for Medicare coverage, you are also eligible for the Medicare prescription drug coverage (Part D). You must be enrolled in Medicare Part A and/or Part B to enroll in a stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan.

If you’re enrolled in Medicare due to a disability, you can enroll in a stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan in Washington from three months before until three months after your 25th month of receiving disability benefits from the Social Security Administration or the Railroad Retirement Board. In most other instances, you can enroll in a Part D Prescription Drug Plan during your seven-month Medicare Initial Enrollment Period, which begins three months before you turn 65, includes your birthday month, and ends three months after that month.

Another time you can sign up for a Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan is during the Annual Election Period for Medicare Advantage and Medicare prescription drug coverage, which runs from October 15 to December 7. You can switch Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans during this period as well.

You may be able to enroll in a Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan during the annual Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period, which runs from January 1 to February 14. If you disenroll from a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan during this period and return to Original Medicare, you can add a stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan through February 14.

An appropriate  time for you to enroll in a plan that provides Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage may be when you are first eligible for Medicare benefits.  An exception to this general rule is a situation in which you already have prescription drug coverage through another insurance plan that is equivalent to Medicare Part D coverage.  In this instance, you have creditable prescription drug coverage.

Be aware, however, that if you go without creditable drug coverage for 63 consecutive days or more after your Initial Enrollment Period ends, you may be liable for a Part D late-enrollment penalty if you enroll in a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan later, and you will continue to pay this late-enrollment penalty for as long as you have Medicare Part D prescription coverage. The Medicare Part D late-enrollment penalty is calculated using 1% of the national base beneficiary premium and the number of full months you were eligible for Medicare Part D but didn’t enroll in a plan offering Medicare prescription coverage. This amount is then added to your Medicare Part D monthly premium. The national base beneficiary premium may increase each year, which means your late-enrollment penalty may also increase annually.

In order to be eligible for a stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan, you must remain enrolled in Medicare and continue to pay any applicable Part A or Part B premiums in addition to the premium you pay for your Medicare prescription drug benefits.

If you are worried that you won’t be able to afford prescription drug coverage, you may wish to investigate whether you are eligible to participate in the Extra Help program.  This program is designed to assist Medicare beneficiaries in Washington and elsewhere pay their prescription drug costs. To be eligible a beneficiary must be enrolled in Medicare and must have a limited amount of income and personal assets. To learn more about the Extra Help program, please contact the Washington Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA).

Evaluating Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans in Washington

You may have choices among the stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans that are available where you live in Washington. Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans cover prescription drugs frequently used by Medicare beneficiaries.  However, there can be differences in prescription drug benefits between plans.  Each Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan has a list of covered medications, and many Part D Prescription Drug Plans place these covered medications into different cost-sharing tiers or categories.  Cost-sharing refers to the amount of out-of-pocket cost you pay each time you fill your prescription, and this amount can be different for each medication you take if the plan assigns the medications to different tiers.

To help you understand your prescription drug benefits, Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans each publish a current list of medications they cover, often referred to as a formulary.  While the formulary may change at any time, you will receive notice from your plan when necessary.   The formulary tells you what medications the plan covers and in what cost-sharing tier they are placed.

Before you choose a Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan be sure to consider your individual prescription needs. Your cost-share for medications may be as significant, if not more significant, a factor in your expenses than your monthly premium.  Therefore, check to see that your medications are on a Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan’s formulary before you enroll.

It may also be smart to re-examine your Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan on an annual basis, in case there have been changes to your drug coverage. Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans in Washington, as in the rest of the United States, are allowed to change their premiums, copayments, deductibles, and drug formularies each year, which means that your present plan may not provide the best fit for your needs next year.  It’s a good idea to review two documents your plan mails to you each fall:  the Annual Notice of Changes and the Evidence of Coverage.  These documents explain any changes in plan benefits for the coming year. The documents are also posted on the plan’s web site. You may even want to compare Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans every year during the Annual Election Period.

When you are ready to  start comparing Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans in Washington, enter your zip code above for a customized list of plans available in your area.

To learn more about your Medicare options in Washington, visit the following pages: