Next Avenue: Tips on how to use Medicare’s new Plan Finder

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The fall open enrollment period for Medicare is nearly here, running Oct. 15 through Dec. 7. It’s the time for people 65 and older to sign up for Medicare plans for 2020 to ensure they’ll have coverage meeting their needs. The Medicare site’s Medicare Plan Finder tool can help find plans in your area, but it was just updated significantly. So you’ll want to understand how to use the new version.

Below is advice on how to use the Medicare Plan Finder and shop for Medicare during open enrollment. Keep in mind that if you’re already a Medicare beneficiary and have been happy with your Medicare plans, you’ll still want to go through this process.

The reason? Medicare Advantage plans from private insurers and stand-alone Medicare Part D plans for prescription drugs with original Medicare often change from year to year. So, your network of health care providers or list of covered drugs may be different in 2020.

The government revised its Medicare Plan Finder tool at the end of August to unveil a more modern design and, ideally, an improved user experience. The previous version was text-heavy and had an outdated look and feel.

But the updated version has flaws of its own that you’ll need to work around.

4 changes in the new Medicare Plan Finder

Here are the four big changes in the new Medicare Plan Finder:

1. How you access a basic or personalized search. The earlier Medicare Plan Finder let you do a customized search by entering personal information like your date of birth and Medicare number. You could then create a drug list and choose pharmacies; then, the search results would show which Medicare plans covered your medications and had pharmacies in your network. The drug list would be saved and accessible through a drug list identification number.

With the new Plan Finder, you generally need to create, or log in to, a MyMedicare account to do a personalized search. If you don’t want to make a MyMedicare account or will be doing a search on behalf of someone else (like your parents), you can do an anonymous search by clicking on the link that says, “Continue without logging in.”

Also read: 5 things you probably didn’t know about Medicare

Your MyMedicare account has other benefits, too. Logging in to it provides electronic access to your Medicare Summary Notice (the health care items and services you’ve received in the past three months), shows you the coverage you currently have and lets you see certain health insurance claims.

2. How you find plans covering your medications. If you created a personalized drug list for Medicare in the past, you’ll have to enter the information all over again in the new Plan Finder. The revised tool hasn’t transferred previous drug list information to the new system.

3. Your out-of-pocket prescription drug costs. The old Plan Finder included the cost of your premiums as part of its estimate of your drug costs for the year ahead. But the new Plan Finder’s estimate of your drug costs doesn’t; it only includes the plan’s deductible (if it has one) and your copays for your prescriptions.

This means to get a ballpark figure for your drug costs for 2020, you’ll have to multiply a drug plan’s premium by 12 and then add that amount to the other estimates for your particular plan.

4. The preferred pharmacies for Medicare Part D plans. The new Plan Finder no longer lists which pharmacies are a particular plan’s preferred pharmacies — those are network pharmacies that offer covered drugs at lower out-of-pocket costs than what you’d pay at a non-preferred pharmacy.

How to start searching for Medicare plans

Now that you know how the Medicare Plan Finder has changed, here’s how to start searching for health and drug plans:

Set aside enough time. At the Medicare Rights Center, we recommend spending about an hour to navigate the Medicare Plan Finder login process, explore the tool, enter your drugs and view your search results.

Also see: Where to find low-cost services for all the things Medicare doesn’t cover

Create a list of prescription drugs you take before beginning your search. A primary benefit of using Plan Finder is that you can create a custom list of the drugs you take, and then it will show you which plans cover your drugs and your estimated costs. Putting together a list of your drugs, their dosages and whether they are brand-name or generic will help you efficiently complete this portion of the process and get to your search results.

Keep scrolling. The benefits summary on the Plan Finder’s results page won’t provide all of the information about a Medicare plan, so click on plan details to learn more.

Plan Finder organizes health and drug plan details in one long list, which you can navigate by clicking on links on the left to jump to different sections of the page. For a full picture of a plan’s costs and benefits, be sure to scroll all the way through the list of plan details.

Call plans you’re considering to confirm all the Plan Finder’s coverage and cost information. Although the Plan Finder materials should be up-to-date, it’s wise to contact a plan directly for confirmation. Before enrolling in a plan, be sure it will cover your drugs and provide any extra benefits listed in Plan Finder. And ask which pharmacies are its preferred pharmacies, since the Plan Finder doesn’t say.

If you will be enrolling in a Medicare Advantage plan, call your health care providers to confirm that they accept the plan you intend to choose.

Use other resources for more information. You might want to visit the Medicare Rights Center’s site, where you can find a Medicare Interactive tool to learn the differences between Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage and questions to ask before joining a Medicare Advantage or Part D plan as well as a free Fall Open Enrollment Guide.

You could also contact your State Health Insurance Program (SHIP) or call Medicare at 1- 800-MEDICARE.

Fred Riccardi is president of Medicare Rights Center, a national nonprofit consumer service organization working to ensure access to affordable health care for older adults and people with disabilities.

This article is reprinted by permission from, © 2019 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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