There are ways to save money on prescriptions, even if you're on Medicare.

How to Make the Best of the Medicare 'Donut Hole'

Until 2020, when Medicare Part D gets rid of the $1,400 drug payment restrictions, beneficiaries should continue to mind the gap.

There are ways to save money on prescriptions, even if you're on Medicare.

There are ways to save money on prescriptions, even if you're on Medicare.

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[Read: What You Need to Know About Medicare Open Enrollment]

While drugs under some plans may have gotten pricier, Muschler says, others may have come up with new strategies or formed partnerships with pharmacies or drug manufacturers to hold the line or bring costs down. Reviewing a policy now, during the open-enrollment period -- the proverbial ounce of prevention, Muschler says -- can prevent an unpleasant surprise at the pharmacy counter next year.

"Many plans now have what are called 'preferred pharmacies,'" which offer cheaper brand-name medications that in turn lead to greater out-of-pocket savings, she said. The catch: if you don't use that option, you could pay more for a drug you need to take.

Cubanski agrees: Seniors "might find some drugs at a lower cost" under another coverage plan, she says. "Although some people might be satisfied with their plan, they may be leaving some money on the table."

With all the confusion over the Affordable Care Act, seniors who decide to change plans should be careful: They don't need to participate in state health-care exchanges, which are designed for people without health insurance. Medicare counts as health care coverage, therefore seniors who participate aren't subject to the health-insurance mandate or penalties for lack of coverage.

Another smart move: Scheduling meeting with your primary care physician for a review of your prescription drug regimen, Cubanski says.

Sometimes, a patient becomes accustomed to taking a particular drug out of habit, unaware that his or her body may have adapted, making the drug less effective. In that case, Cubanski says, a physician can recommend a cheaper brand or a generic alternative; he or she might have a supply of free samples on hand, or could suggest ending that prescription entirely.

"If you're taking a lot of [prescription] drugs, maybe you don't need to be taking them anymore," she says. "It's important to step back and look at the entire prescription drug regimen. It may involve scaling it back some."

The CMS also suggests seniors consider buying drugs in bulk -- a 30-day supply, for example -- or shop online from approved mail-order Internet distributors. Additionally, big-box retailers like Costco or Wal-Mart can offer deeper discounts than a standard corner drugstore, and most insurance company web sites or advocacy groups like AARP offer more helpful hints for saving money. Cubanski said the bottom line is relatively simple: a few easy steps, combined with research and comparison shopping, can help seniors keep more of their money in the long run.

"It may be daunting to look at 20 plans, but Medicare.gov has some important tools that can help," she said. And now that Open Enrollment time is here, she added, Medicare Part D recipients should "use these devices as a first choice, not a last resort."



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