[Executive summary: If you know anyone using a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan, point them to https://medicare.gov/find-a-plan/ this week.]

Nelson Minar recently gave an example of government agencies beginning to catch up with the private sector with regard to web services. I’ll offer another, not so fancy (though plenty of AJAX is on display), but very powerful in taking a numbingly complicated set of data and turning it into a simple presentation of options for decision making.

Our pharmacy attached a note to one of Glenn’s prescriptions recently pointing us to https://medicare.gov/find-a-plan/. People who use Medicare Prescription Drug Plans (which is most Americans over 65) are only able to change plans without paying a penalty between November 15th and December 31st of each year (though the dates are changing next year), so now’s the time to double-check the bang you’re getting for your buck. Unfortunately, a lot of people want to sell you coverage, with a great many variables.

Each plan has a different monthly premium and a different deductible. Each puts different drugs into different price tiers, doesn’t cover some drugs, and limits the quantity or places other restrictions on other drugs. Some require that you use specific pharmacies or contact them for prior authorization of certain drugs. Some will charge you less if you get a 90-day supply instead of a 30-day supply, or if you use a mail-order pharmacy. Each covers each specific drug at different levels during the initial coverage period, the coverage gap, and the catastrophic coverage period. If you take certain drugs year-round, you need to project whether (and when) their cost will push you into the coverage gap, what you’ll pay for each drug during that period, how long that will cause the gap to last, and how much you’ll pay for each for the remainder of the year if you pass into the catastrophic period.

There are 41 plans currently available to us. You can imagine what happens when you start multiplying the previous paragraph 41 times.

Medicare has done a beautiful job of crafting a site which boils the whole process down to lump sum numbers for a quick overview and clearly displays the details for thorough comparisons.

In exchange for some personal identification data, they will look up your current coverage. You can optionally enter a list of the drugs you take with dosages and frequencies (and save the list for future visits), then choose your preferred pharmacies (with Google Maps integration). A number of filters can be placed on the results (premium limits, special needs, etc.). A chart gives the highlights of the options, with the total estimated annual cost for each front and center and Medicare’s own ratings of (and, in some cases, warnings about) plans prominent. You can pass on to the full details of each plan, or choose 2-3 for side-by-side comparison.

The reports are neat and clear, with a good combination of inline explanations and popup definitions for more technical points. If you’re not grateful for what’s been done here after viewing the breakdown of all the details which go into constructing the total estimated costs, I don’t know what would impress you. You could spend days crafting spreadsheets to reach the numbers they give you in seconds, and still miss many of the finer points which could be critical to your decision.

When you find a plan you want, a single click starts the enrollment process. I haven’t made a decision yet, but from a first look, it seems we’ll be able to move to a higher-rated plan which will cost us $800 less next year.

As I said, the open enrollment period ends on 12/31, so if you or someone you know uses Medicare, take the time to take a look.

They also have a section which provides the same service for Medigap policies. This is an even more time-critical decision, as there’s only a once-in-a-lifetime open enrollment period during which insurers are legally required to sell you the Medigap plan of your choice, the six months after you’re both 65+ and covered by Medicare Part B. If you know Americans around that age, be sure to point them at Medicare’s site and their Medigap information booklet.

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