How to Apply for Medicare Part D
Our comprehensive guide helps you find the best Part D drug plan for you
Although Medicare is not without its faults, one thing is clear: Medicare Part D has been a successful program. With nearly 70% of all beneficiaries enrolled in Part D, this optional add-on to Original Medicare is a popular way to lower drug costs.1
But before diving into the deep end of Part D plans, you’ll want to perform due diligence to get the best plan for your needs. In this guide, we’ll walk you through how to research and then successfully sign up for a Part D plan.
Enrolling in Medicare Part D: What you’ll need
Before you can enroll in Medicare Part D, you’ll first need to be enrolled in Medicare Part A and/or Part B. Once you enroll in either of those, you can start doing the crucial preparations for enrolling in a Part D plan.
The most important preparation you can do before finding a Part D plan is recording information about your medications. No matter how you sign up for Part D, you’ll need to follow this step because the medications you take will determine which plan works best for you.
Start by gathering all your prescription drugs into one place (don’t include over-the-counter medications or vitamins). If it's prescribed to you and you take it regularly, put it all on the table. Then, write down these three things for each medication:
- The medication’s name exactly as it appears on the label. A lot of drugs have similar names or even the same name but with different formulations (like CR, controlled release, or SR, sustained release), so it’s important to record exactly what you see on the label.
- The dosage of the medication. Your dosage can affect your final cost or enact certain plan restrictions depending on the Part D plan.
- The frequency of the medication. The number of pills you take also affects the cost, so double check how often you take your medication and write it down.
Once you have these recorded, you’ll be able to compare plans, apples-to-apples. But even though your medication information is the primary factor in considering a plan, there could be other criteria to consider. Examples may include restrictions, ordering options, or a plan’s track record.
After this prework, you will be prepared to sort through the list of Part D plans.
How to apply for Medicare Part D: The basics
With either your phone or your computer, you have two ways you can easily enroll in Medicare Part D:
- Online with Medicare’s plan finder: This is a good option for people who want to see and compare plans for themselves, although it’s not without its faults.
Applying for Medicare Part D with Medicare’s plan finder
Before going to Medicare’s site, be sure you’ve finished all the prep work described in “Enrolling in Medicare Part D: What you’ll need” (above).
- Go to the Medicare Plan Finder page: Create an account if you'll want to save your search and come back to it later. Otherwise, click "Continue without logging in."
- Enter your information: Select "Drug Plan (Part D). Then enter your zip code and answer any other questions that pop up. Click "Next," and confirm you'd like to see drug costs when comparing plans. Answer any additional questions as they pop up.
- Enter all your drugs, dosages, and frequencies just as you listed them: Sometimes, you have the option to use a generic version of your medication, which is less expensive. When you're done, click "Done Adding Drugs."
- Select up to two pharmacies*: Proceed to the next page.
- *A note about selecting pharmacies: Unfortunately, without looking at the plans, it’s difficult to know which pharmacy is best for your needs. Since each plan has different pharmacies in its network, it’s hard to know which one to pick now, before you even have a list of plans to choose from. But alas, this is the way the plan finder works until Medicare revamps their site.
- Browse Part D plans: A list of drug plans that may work for you will populate. If you receive a lot of results, use the filters and sorting tools to make the list more manageable.
- Compare, compare, compare: Select up to three plans you want to see side by side, then click the "Compare" button. You'll see detailed information on each plan. Use the scroll bar beneath each plan to see even more information for each plan, including estimated costs and coverage. Keep in mind: these are estimates.
- Enroll. Once you’ve narrowed the many options, you can enroll via your selected plan’s “Enroll” button.
If this process seems a little daunting, that’s understandable—there’s a lot of information to sift through. Regardless, it does give you everything you need to make an informed choice on Part D coverage.
However, if after reading through these steps, you’ve realized you’d rather have someone help you find a plan than have to sort through them yourself, you may be interested in the guidance of an experienced representative over the phone.
When to apply for Medicare Part D
If you don’t have creditable drug coverage or health insurance from a current employer, the best time to sign up for Part D is during your 7-month initial enrollment period (IEP) to avoid penalties.
Under your IEP, you have a 7-month window that opens 3 months before you turn 65 and closes at the end of the 3rd month following your birthday month. For example, if you turn 65 in May, your open enrollment would start on February 1 and last until August 31.
You may also qualify for a special enrollment period (SEP) under certain circumstances, like if you don’t enroll in Part B during your IEP. Typically a SEP lasts for 63 days.
If you miss your deadline during your IEP or SEP, you’ll have to wait for the Annual Open Enrollment Period in the Fall (October 15 through December 7).
Learn more about enrollment periods and the circumstances surrounding them.
After you apply for Medicare Part D
Once you’ve applied, the plan has 10 calendar days to reply in one of three ways:
- Confirming they’ve received your application
- Requesting more information
- Denying your application with an explanation why.
If you merely receive confirmation, you'll soon get a card in the mail with important documents about your plan details. If they need more information from you, send it to them ASAP. If they've denied you, it's either because you're not in the plan's service area or you're not currently in an enrollment period—get more information about these reasons and try again for another plan.
Wait . . . I’m not sure if Part D is for me. Is there another way to get creditable drug coverage?
Alternatively, you can get drug benefits from a Medicare Advantage plan. Medicare Advantage (or Part C) is private insurance offering all the benefits of Medicare Part A and Part B, often with Part D equivalent drug coverage.
1. Kaiser Family Foundation, “10 Things to Know about Medicare Part D Coverage and Costs in 2019"
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