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Consumer Archive

Consumer

How--and why--to shop for lower-cost Medicare drug plan

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WASHINGTON (12/4/07)--Sticking with your current Medicare prescription drug plan could get costly. In fact, everything about prescription drug plans can change significantly from year to year, so health-care advocates are encouraging you to shop around now--before it’s too late (U.S. News & World Report Nov. 7). You can enroll, re-enroll in your current plan, or switch to any Part D plan--without penalty--during the enrollment period, which runs from Nov. 15 until Dec. 31. Whatever plan you have on Jan. 1, though, is the one you’ll have for all of 2008. But if you don’t take time to shop around now, you could be in for sticker shock in 2008, even if your plan had a reasonable premium in 2007. Since drug coverage is offered by private insurance companies, be on the lookout for significant price increases from year to year. But don’t just compare monthly premiums: Some insurance plans are cutting the monthly premium while increasing costs for the most common prescription drugs. Others are increasing your co-pay, or even limiting the number of pills covered. Consumers Union offers these tips for serious comparison shopping for a Medicare Part D plan:
* Make a list of all meds. Write down all the prescriptions you take now and those you expect to take in 2008. * Check local plans. Go to medicare.gov (use the “plan finder”), call 800-Medicare, or look through the “Medicare and You” book you should have received in November from the government. All three resources will have information on Part D plans for your area. * Understand the risks. Unfortunately, Part D plans can change the price of drugs they cover, as well as their formularies (list of drugs the plan does and doesn’t cover), even after you enroll. * Stick with unsponsored sites. If you conduct a Web search for Part D, most sites listed are sponsored by Part D plan sponsors and therefore are promotional in nature. Rather, use the Medicare Rights Center website at medicarerights.org for high-quality, easy-to-use, independent information. * Get a “drug check. Ask your doctor to review the drugs you take to make sure you’re taking medicines that give you the best value for your money. For alternatives to high-priced drugs, visit CRBestBuyDrugs.org. * Consider low-cost alternatives. Some discount stores offer a 30-day supply of some common prescription drugs--typically generic--for a standard price of $4 or $9 .
For more information, read, “Does Your Generic Drug Make the Grade?” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Flex your money smarts and use up your FSA

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McLEAN, Va. (12/5/07)--Don’t get so caught up in the holiday hustle and bustle that you forget to use the remaining dollars in your flexible spending account (FSA). Now’s the time to consider purchasing cold medicine, pain reliever, and extra contact lenses if you have money left in your account (USA Today Nov. 27). FSAs let employees set aside pretax dollars to pay for things not covered by insurance such as certain over-the-counter (OTC)/drug store items, co-payments, and eyeglasses. The catch: If you don’t spend the money by the end of the year--or, in some cases by mid-March--you forfeit the money and it goes back to your employer. Check the list at fsafeds.com/forms/OTC_QRG000.pdf to see what items qualify. Simple things such as ointment and bandages qualify, so give the list a good look or you may miss out. Generic brands of items also might be eligible. OTC items purchased to treat a general medical condition that are not preventative or cosmetic in nature are eligible expenses to claim. No toiletries are allowed. For other ideas of how to tie up 2007 using sound money management skills, get registered and join the Home & Family Finance Resource Center’s Financial Fitness Challenge.