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AARP’s Health Tip: Avoid Doughnuts

By Nicole Duritz

The dog days of August are the most likely time for Medicare Part D participants to fall into the “doughnut hole” and see their prescriptions costs rise. With AARP resources, you can see if you’re at risk of falling in, and find options for lowering your drug costs.

The Doughnut Hole

Each year, 19% of Medicare Part D beneficiaries fall into the “doughnut hole.” Once the amount of money you and your insurance company pay for your prescription drugs reaches $2,850, you hit a temporary coverage limit, aka, the “doughnut hole.”

For 2014, you will receive a 52.5% discount on brand name prescription drugs and a 28% discount on generics while you’re in the doughnut hole. These discounts will continue to grow until 2020. That’s when the doughnut hole will close for good. This change came about as part of the Affordable Care Act.

How much you pay out of pocket for each drug while you are in the doughnut hole will vary widely depending on the Part D plan you’ve chosen and the price your plan has negotiated with drug manufacturers.

If you use brand-name drugs, the full cost of the drug – what it costs before your discount, counts toward your out-of-pocket costs. So even though you would get a $52.50 discount on a $100 prescription while you’re in the doughnut hole, the full $100 counts as out-of-pocket costs. This is important because once you reach $4,750 in out-of-pocket costs, you’re out of the doughnut hole. You’ll then pay just 5% of the cost of your prescriptions for the rest of the year.

A simple way to determine when and if you’ll fall into the “doughnut hole” is by using the Doughnut Hole Calculator at www.aarp.org/doughnuthole. The tool will help you predict if or when you might fall into the doughnut hole and offers recommendations for less expensive drugs for you and your doctor to consider.

Don’t have Medicare?

If you don’t have Medicare you’re not thinking about the doughnut hole, but when it comes to prescriptions and over-the-counter medications, your expenses can creep up as the months go by. AARP offers an easy online tool at www.aarp.org/drugsavings that lets you compare your current prescription medications to lower cost alternatives. Simply type in your medication to get a list of generics or other similar drugs. Print the list and take it with you to your next doctor’s appointment. It’s worth checking out; the savings can be substantial.

Appointment Time!

Of course, avoiding doughnuts is also good for your health (pun definitely intended). Now is a good time to take stock of your health care plan to see if it’s meeting your needs, and to get those annual appointments on the books for 2015.

Remember to get your screenings and other annual appointments no earlier than one year after your last ones. Otherwise, insurance may not cover the visits. Go ahead and get those appointments on the calendar now – even if they are months away.

Get started with making plans for the fall and the year ahead before the pace of the world around us picks back up. And don’t forget to sit back and enjoy some quiet time while you have the chance!

Nicole Duritz is Vice President of the Health & Family issues team in the Education and Outreach group at AARP.  She leads AARP’s educational and outreach efforts on health education issues, including Medicare, the health law, prescription drug affordability, long-term care, and prevention and wellness.  She can be reached at nduritz@aarp.org.

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