Convenience From your Medicare Part D Plan Is a Double-Edged Sword

When you have Medicare Part D, the last thing you want to do is spend your time reviewing the booklets, flyers and letters your plan and/or other competitive plans may send you. Other than an auto repair manual or circuit schematic of your TV, could anything be stuffier than relaxing on the couch with a Medicare Plan Guide…oops, “Decision Guide” as they like to call them? Please.

Then again, once you’ve enrolled in a Medicare Part D plan, and made it through the onslaught of mailers, flyers and Medicare advertising that’s made to look like official government business so you’ll open it, it’s a good idea to stay connected with them. This is especially true if your plan sends you a letter. It usually means they have something important to tell you about your drugs or your network or your cost. You should always read their letters—in particularly those that begin with “Dear Your Name” rather than “Dear Member.” The same holds true if they call you. Again, it means there’s news about something that could affect your pocketbook or the prescriptions you take.

On the other hand, if a Medicare Part D plan sends you something that looks like advertising, it probably is. The reason being that once a plan has you as a member, their only job is to then KEEP you as a member for as long as they can. One way plans do that is by continuing to embed you deeper and deeper into their realm by enticing you into what is known as “sticky services.”

Sticky services are just what the term implies: a Medicare Part D plan for example, wants you to sign up for their auto bill pay service or their mail order prescriptions or online ordering of your medications, because it’s convenient for you. While that may be, what they don’t tell you is that once they’ve convinced you to take advantage of those conveniences, it’s that much thornier for you to leave their plan.

Let’s say you’re the type of Medicare beneficiary that shops every year, because you’re not convinced there isn’t a Medicare Part D plan out there that can offer you more for less than the one you have now. And let’s say you happen upon a different Part D plan that covers your drugs, but does so for less than you’re currently paying. Or maybe the monthly premiums are lower, and you don’t want to continue paying more than you should. You decide then, that you’d like to switch from your current Part D plan to that cheaper plan in October.

Ah, but it’s not so simple when you’re “embedded” in your current Part D plan. That’s because in order to leave your current plan you must “undo” all of those “convenient” sticky services, which is anything but convenient. In fact, your current Part D plan hopes that the idea of undoing all of your convenience is just enough of a pain that you’ll stay with them to avoid the effort. Sticky is as sticky does.

Then again, you may be the kind of Medicare beneficiary that rarely shops. The kind of member Medicare Part D plans absolutely love because it would take an act of God to get you to go through the process of switching plans and starting over with a new Medicare Part D insurer. Bodies at rest, as they say, tend to stay at rest. And your Part D plan is counting on you to stay put because it’s “comfortable.” And why wouldn’t you if you’re in the right plan, and getting the best value for your Medicare dollar? If you’re sure that’s the case, then the convenient services offered by your plan are positives—especially since you’re “sticking” with them through thick and thin.

The moral of the story is this: before you buy into all the sticky convenient services your Medicare prescription drug plan offers you, wait a while. Take some time to be sure you’re in the right plan and not overpaying for the same quality you may get from another Part D plan for less. Part D plans are NOT all the same. And sometimes the Plan you loved when you enrolled is not so lovable because they changed the prescriptions they cover or the prices they charge during the year—AFTER they have your enrollment. Yes, Part D plans can do that! So it’s to your advantage not to be a body at rest. Take the time to compare plans to be sure there isn’t something better out there for your specific situation. Make a few calls, visit a few websites, and if you’re feeling really ambitious, visit Medicare.gov where all Part D plans compete for your business, and show you their wares.

If after shopping around, you still like the Medicare Part D plan you’re in, the way they treat you when you call, the coverage they offer and the prices you’re paying for your premiums and your prescriptions, then let the conveniences flow, and stick with them.