A patient reviewing her health history with a doctor

If you’re already on Medicare, it’s tempting to just renew last year’s plan before the sign-up deadline of Dec. 7. But that’s not always smart. “Each year insurers drop and add drugs to their formulary, or change premiums or deductibles,” says Fred Riccardi, president of the nonprofit Medicare Rights Organization.

So you don’t overpay, look closely at how your plan for 2020 compares with others offered in your area by using Medicare's plan search tool. Plus, follow these quick tips.

Go to PlanFinder.gov and enter all of your information. In a test last year, CR Secret Shoppers found that leaving out even a single drug from a list of five could lead to a plan that could cost hundreds extra. The PlanFinder tool lets you create an account where you can keep a list of the drugs you take, making shopping easier.  

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Compare pharmacies carefully. CR shoppers also found that prices for the same drugs in the same plan purchased at different pharmacies can be very different, even within ZIP codes. That’s because some pharmacies are considered “preferred” by the Part D plan, Riccardi says. In the PlanFinder tool, note whether any of the pharmacies are preferred and consider those. They are often the lowest-cost options.

Note the annual, total cost of your meds. Though your deductible—the amount you’ll pay before coverage begins—and the cost of the premiums are both important, Riccardi suggests that once you’ve added all your meds and selected the pharmacies to compare, sort the resulting list of plans by selecting “Lowest drug cost” (the tool defaults to “Lowest monthly premium”). This way you can see lowest to highest amounts.  

Get free help. Choosing a plan is complex, Riccardi says, so don’t hesitate to get help. Several resources are available.

  • Call Medicare at 800-633-4227.
  • All states offer free help through the State Health Insurance Assistance Program. Go to shiptacenter.org or call 877-839-2675.
  • Contact Medicare Rights at 800-333-4114 or medicarerights.org.

Note: If your annual income is below $18,735 for an individual or $25,365 for a married couple, you may qualify for extra help from Medicare with drug costs.