Medicare Part D Cost: An Inquisitive Perspective Unveiled

Medicare has proved to be a blessing for many of the US citizens because of the seemingly generous nature of its provisions but all this generosity has a cost of its own too. Different parts have different features and repercussions

Medicare is a United States national health insurance program that was established in 1965 by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and is now administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). It mostly covers Americans aged 65 and above, although it also covers some younger persons with disabilities as established by the Social Security Administration, such as those with end-stage renal illness and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease). The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) now administers the program, which expands coverage to include those with certain disabilities, as well as those with end-stage renal illness and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), sometimes known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Medicare is divided into four components, each of which provides distinct types of services to the insured:

  • Part A of Medicare
  • Part B of Medicare
  • Part C of Medicare
  • Part D of Medicare

Part A includes inpatient (officially admitted only) hospital, skilled nursing (only after being formally admitted to a hospital for three days and not for custodial care), and hospice services. Outpatient services, including some providers’ services while inpatient at a hospital, outpatient hospital expenses, most provider office visits even if the office is “in a hospital,” and most professionally administered prescription medications, are covered by Part B. Part C, also known as Managed Medicare or Medicare Advantage, allows patients to choose from a variety of health plans that include at least the same service coverage as Parts A and B (and often more), often the benefits of Part D, and always an annual out-of-pocket expense limit that Parts A and B lack. Before enrolling in Part C, a beneficiary must first enroll in Parts A and B.Part D mostly covers self-administered prescription medications.

Medicare Part D, generally known as the Medicare prescription drug benefit, is an optional federal government program in the United States that assists Medicare recipients in paying for self-administered prescription medications. Part D was implemented on January 1, 2006, as part of the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003. Private insurance plans that collect premiums from both subscribers and the government provide drug benefits under the program. Part D plans usually cover the majority of the cost of medicines filled by their members. However, manufacturers and pharmacies refund plans for a portion of these costs through rebates.

What is Medicare?

Medicare is a federal health-insurance program for adults 65 and older, as well as people younger than 65 who have specified illnesses or impairments. Its coverage is critical for keeping medical expenditures down as you get older. However, Medicare does not cover everything. As you get closer to 65, you’ll have to figure out how to fill in some of those coverage gaps. For the time being, understanding the basics of Medicare will help you grasp some of the costs you’ll incur.

Part D provided prescription coverage to almost three-quarters of Medicare members in 2019. The total cost of the program was $102 billion, accounting for 12% of all Medicare spending. Medicare funds more than a third of retail prescription drug spending in the United States through the Part D program.

Enrollment and eligibility for Part D

Medicare beneficiaries must be enrolled in either Part A or Part B to enroll in Part D. Part D is available as a stand-alone prescription drug plan or as part of a Medicare Advantage plan that includes prescription drug coverage. Beneficiaries have the option of enrolling directly with the plan’s sponsor or through an intermediary. A late-enrollment penalty may be imposed on Medicare recipients who wait too long to join in Part D. Part D enrolled 47 million people in 2019, accounting for three-quarters of all Medicare recipients.

Available plans of Part D

Part D coverage is supplied through private plans that have been approved by the federal government. The number of plans available varies by location, but a typical enrollee will have hundreds to pick from. Even though many program restrictions limit plans, they differ in a variety of ways. When choosing a plan, members generally compare premiums, covered medications, and cost-sharing rules, among other things. Medicare provides an interactive online tool for comparing coverage and pricing across all plans in a given geographic location. The application allows users to enter their medicine list, which is then used to provide tailored forecasts of the enrollee’s annual expenses under each plan option. Plans must send biweekly data updates to Medicare, which is used to keep this tool current throughout the year.

Part D’s cost-sharing for mutual benefit

Part D contains a statutorily defined “standard benefit” that is modified each year. All Part D sponsors are required to provide a plan that meets the standard benefit. The standard benefit is defined in terms of the benefit structure rather than the pharmaceuticals that are required to be covered. In the 2020 standard benefit, for example, beneficiaries must initially pay a 100% coinsurance amount up to a $435 deductible. Second, beneficiaries must pay a 25% coinsurance amount up to a $6,350 Out-of-Pocket Threshold. Beneficiaries pay the greater of a 5% coinsurance amount or a minimal co-payment amount in the final benefit phase. The Deductible, Initial Coverage Limit, and Catastrophic benefit stages are referred to as the Deductible, Initial Coverage Limit, and Catastrophic benefit phases, respectively.

In the Catastrophic phase, beneficiaries continue to accrue cost-sharing expenditures, therefore the “Out-of-Pocket Threshold” is not a cap on out-of-pocket spending. Beneficiaries would typically reach this threshold in 2020 when their annual retail medicine spending approaches $10,000. When patients reach the Catastrophic stage, they have often spent far less on cost-sharing than the Out-of-Pocket Threshold. Because the standard benefit allows plans to include in other sums, such as manufacturer discounts, when evaluating whether the Out-of-Pocket Threshold has been met, this is the case.

Sponsors of Part D plans may also offer plans that are different from the usual benefit, as long as the alternative benefit structures do not result in higher average cost-sharing. Most members do not choose basic benefit plans, preferring instead non-deductible plans with tiered prescription co-payments rather than coinsurance. Enrollees must pay a more premium to be enrolled in a plan with lower cost-sharing than the usual benefit, and this additional sum is not subsidized by the federal government.

Before 2010, the basic benefit contained a Coverage Gap phase in which relatively high-cost users were required to pay a 100 percent coinsurance payment until they entered the Catastrophic phase after amassing significant spending. The “Donut Hole” is a term used to describe the Coverage Gap phase. Cost-sharing in the Coverage Gap phase has been gradually lowered since the Affordable Care Act. Even though it no longer triggers increased cost-sharing, the Coverage Gap phase exists for administrative purposes.

Premiums for the benefit of others in Part D

The average monthly Part D premium for all plans in 2020 was $27. Prices for stand-alone PDPs are three times higher than for MA-PDs because Medicare Advantage plans frequently employ federal rebates to lower drug coverage premiums. Enrollees normally pay their premiums directly to plans, though they can choose to have their premiums withdrawn from their Social Security payments automatically.

To entice people to join, plans provide low rates. Premiums must cover plan liability as well as the reinsurance subsidy. Despite increased per capita prescription consumption, premiums fell by 16 percent from 2017 to 2020. By obtaining higher rebates from manufacturers and pharmacies, plans have been able to cut rates. The number of prescription prices rebated back to plans increased from 22% to 28% between 2017 and 2020. In addition, the standard benefit was altered in 2019 to enhance the Coverage Gap’s obligatory manufacturer discounts.

Part D uses community rating, which means that all members of a plan pay the same price. Enrollees who enroll in higher-than-average-cost plans or policies with improved benefits do pay more in premiums. Higher-income subscribers, including those in Part B, must pay an extra premium. If low-income registrants qualify for the low-income premium subsidy, their premium may be decreased or altogether.

Costs for stand-alone Part D plans in the 10 largest U.S. markets for 2022 ranged from $6.90 per month (Dallas and Houston) to $160.20 per month (Dallas and Houston) (San Francisco). According to research by the American Association for Medicare Supplement Insurance, the top-10 markets will have the lowest and highest Medicare Plan D expenses in 2022.

Subsidies for low-income people in Part D

The low-income subsidy, which helps pay for premiums and cost-sharing, is available to those who earn less than 150 percent of the poverty level. Some beneficiaries are qualified for the whole low-income subsidy, while others are only eligible for a partial payment, depending on their income and assets. All low-income subsidy recipients continue to make minimal copayments. Low-income registrants are more likely to have chronic illnesses than other enrollees. Low-income subsidy members make up roughly a quarter of the program’s total enrollment, but they spend about half of the program’s retail prescription spending. The low-income subsidy accounts for about a third of all federal spending on Part D.

In addition to receiving premium and cost-sharing subsidies, low-income subsidy enrollees are subject to different program requirements. The Coverage Gap Manufacturer Discount Program does not apply to low-income subsidy recipients. Low-income subsidy recipients are also permitted to change plans more frequently than other applicants.

Drugs not included in Part D

Part D drug coverage excludes drugs not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, drugs not available by prescription for purchase in the United States, and drugs for which payments would be available under Part B, even though CMS does not have an established formulary.

Part D coverage does not cover medications or classes of drugs that are not covered by Medicaid. These may include the following:

  • Anti-anorexia, anti-obesity, anti-obesity, anti-obesity, anti-obesity, anti-
  • Fertility-inducing medications
  • Medications for erectile dysfunction
  • Cosmetics are drugs that are used to improve one’s appearance (hair growth, etc.)
  • Drugs that are used to relieve the symptoms of coughs and colds.
  • Except for prenatal vitamins and fluoride preparations, prescription vitamin, and mineral products
  • Drugs for which the manufacturer stipulates that any accompanying testing or monitoring services must be acquired exclusively from the manufacturer or its designee as a condition of sale.

While some pharmaceuticals are not covered under basic Part D, drug plans can include them as a supplemental benefit if they otherwise meet the Part D drug definition. Plans that cover excluded pharmaceuticals, on the other hand, are not authorized to pass those costs on to Medicare, and plans must repay CMS if they are found to have billed Medicare in these situations.

Plan formularies of Part D

All covered Part D medications are not obliged to be covered by Part D plans. They create their formularies, or lists of covered pharmaceuticals for which they will pay, as long as CMS does not find the formulary or benefit structure to prevent particular Medicare beneficiaries from enrolling. Part D plans that adhere to the United States Pharmacopeia’s formulary classes and categories will pass the first discrimination test. Plans can modify the pharmaceuticals on their formulary at any time during the year by giving affected parties 60 days’ notice.

The coverage of brand-name pharmaceuticals is the fundamental variation between the formularies of different Part D plans. The formulary of most plans is divided into tiers, with each tier corresponding to a specific co-pay price. The majority of formularies include three to five layers. The co-pay is lower the tier. Tier 1 might, for example, include all of the Plan’s chosen generic pharmaceuticals, with a co-pay of $5 to $10 per prescription for each drug in this tier. Tier 2 may include the Plan’s preferred brand pharmaceuticals with a $40 to $50 co-pay, while Tier 3 could be allocated for non-preferred brand drugs with a higher co-pay, such as $70 to $100.

Tiers 4 and up frequently feature specialty medications, which normally have the highest co-pays due to their greater cost. By 2011, an increasing number of Medicare Part D health insurance plans in the United States have introduced the specialized tier.

Costs of Medicare Part D

In 2019, Medicare Part D participants spent almost 180 billion dollars on drugs. Prescription medication insurance paid around a third of this amount, or about 120 billion dollars. About 50 billion dollars in discounts, largely in the form of manufacturer and drugstore rebates, were used to partially reduce the plan’s liabilities. This resulted in a net plan liability of around 70 billion dollars (after discounts). Plans received around $50 billion in federal reinsurance subsidies, $10 billion in federal direct subsidies, and $10 billion in enrollee premiums to cover this expense.

In addition to the $60 billion in federal insurance subsidies, the federal government also provided around $30 billion in low-income enrollment cost-sharing subsidies. In addition, the federal government received almost $20 billion in offset receipts. State payments on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries who also qualify for full Medicaid benefits, as well as additional premiums paid by high-income enrollees, were included in these offsets. After these offsets were taken into account, the net government cost of Part D was around 70 billion dollars.

Cost-effectiveness of Part D

Limitations on prescriptions covered in a certain insurer’s formulary for a plan are referred to as Medicare Part D Cost Utilization Measures. Techniques aimed at lowering insurance costs are referred to as cost utilization. Quantity constraints, prior authorization, and step therapy are the three basic cost utilization measures. The maximum amount of a drug that can be supplied in a certain calendar time is referred to as a quantity limit. For example, a plan might stipulate that it will cover 90 tablets of a particular medicine over 30 days.

Prior authorization requires a health care provider to get formal approval from a plan before it would cover a certain prescription. Insurers may use it for medications that are frequently misused. The prior authorization ensures that patients receive the appropriate drugs. Step treatment is a process in which an individual is required to try and prove ineffectual one or more lower-cost medications before being accepted for a higher-cost drug in the same therapeutic class.

Issues with the implementation of Medicare’s Part D

Goal alignment between PDPs and MAs and healthcare providers: PDPs and MAs are rewarded for focusing on low-cost pharmaceuticals for all beneficiaries, while providers are rewarded for the quality of treatment – which may include expensive technologies.

Plans must have a tiered exemptions mechanism in place for beneficiaries to acquire a higher-tier prescription at a reduced cost, but they must also offer medically justified exceptions.

Beneficiaries, on the other hand, are denied the right to request a tiering exception for some high-cost pharmaceuticals under the rule. Because each plan can establish its formulary and tier levels, medications that appear on Tier 2 in one plan may appear on Tier 3 in another. Co-pays may differ between plans. There are no deductibles in certain plans, and coinsurance for the most expensive prescriptions varies greatly.

Beneficiaries’ impact

According to a 2008 research, the number of Medicare recipients who reported skipping drugs due to cost decreased with Part D, from 15.2% in 2004 to 14.1 percent in 2005 to 11.5 percent in 2006. The percentage of people who said they skipped out on other essentials to pay for drugs fell from 10.6% in 2004 to 11.1 percent in 2005 to 7.6% in 2006. The sickest recipients reported no loss in benefits, although fewer said they had to forego other essentials to pay for the medicine.

In a separate study, it was discovered that many Part D beneficiaries miss doses or switch to cheaper drugs and that many are unaware of the program. Part D resulted in slight increases in average drug consumption and decreases in average out-of-pocket costs, according to another study. According to other data conducted by the same group of researchers, the net impact on beneficiaries was a decrease in the use of generic medications.

According to another study, while there was a significant decrease in out-of-pocket costs and a moderate increase in utilization among Medicare beneficiaries during the first year after Part D’s implementation, there was no evidence of improvement in emergency department use, hospitalizations, or preference-based health utility for those eligible for Part D during that year. Due to Part D, there were no significant changes in trends in out-of-pocket spending, total monthly expenditures, pill-days, or a total number of prescriptions for dual eligibles.

According to a 2020 study, Medicare Part D resulted in a significant decrease in the number of adults over 65 who worked full-time. According to the authors, this shows that people avoided retiring before the shift to keep their employer-based health care.

Criticisms against Part D

The federal government is not allowed to negotiate drug pricing with drug companies in Part D, as it is allowed to do in other federal programs. On average, the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is permitted to negotiate drug prices and set a formulary, pays between 40% and 58 percent less for drugs than Part D. The VA, on the other hand, only covers about half of the brands covered by a typical Part D plan. Part of the problem is that Medicare doesn’t pay for Part D medications, so it has no real bargaining power. Part D drug providers are taking advantage of the leverage of private insurers, which represents a greater segment of the market than the 40 million or so people who use Medicare Parts A and B for medical care.


In a Medicare drug plan, you’ll be responsible for the premium, annual deductible, coinsurance, expenditures in the coverage gap, costs if you seek extra aid, and costs if you pay a late enrollment penalty throughout the year. Depending on your prescriptions and if they’re on your plan’s list of covered pharmaceuticals, the cost of your drug coverage will vary ( formulary ), what “tier” the drug is in, and what drug benefit phase you’re in (such as if your deductible has been met or whether you’re in the catastrophic coverage phase).

Charles Bains

Charles Bains

Charles Bains started his insurance career as a marketing intern before pounding the pavement as a commercial lines agent in Orlando, FL. As an industry journalist, his articles have appeared in a variety of trade publications. His insurance television career, short-lived but glorious, once saw him serve as the expert adviser on an insurance-themed infomercial (yes, you read that correctly). Having recently worked for various organizations, coupled with his broader insurance knowledge, Charles is able to understand our client’s needs and guide them accordingly. He is a gem for Insurance Noon as his wide area of expertise and experience have been beneficial in conducting further researches to come up with solutions and writing them in a manner which is easy for everyone including beginners to comprehend.