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Medicare Part D Changes Not Overwhelming, Experts Say
Date:11/11/2010

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Nov. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Seniors enrolled in Medicare Part D prescription drug plans will come across some changes as they choose a new plan or reassess an old one during the upcoming open enrollment period, but experts say those differences won't be monstrous.

Open enrollment starts Nov. 15 and continues through Dec. 31, and any changes will take effect Jan. 1, 2011.

"Some of the doom-and-gloom predictions because of health-care reform or the freezing of Advantage Program payments [Medicare benefits provided through private plans] have been a major distortion that haven't come to pass," said Joe Baker, president of the Medicare Rights Center, a nonprofit consumer counseling and advocacy group. "While there are changes and new things to look at, it's not a lot of change."

Medicare Part D prescription coverage comes in two forms: original prescription drug plans (PDPs), which simply add drug coverage to Original Medicare, and Medicare Advantage Plans, which are like HMOs or PPOs.

Next year, 1,109 PDPs will be offered nationwide, the fewest since Part D was introduced in 2006. The average Medicare beneficiary will have a choice of 33 PDPs, although this number will vary from state to state.

"Seniors will continue to have many Part D plans, even though the overall number has declined," said Tricia Neuman, vice president and director of the Medicare Policy Project of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The average monthly premium will rise 10 percent in 2011, to an average of $40.72. These can range from a low of $29.01 (in New Mexico) to a high of $46.51 (in Utah/Idaho), according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. In 2011, Medicare beneficiaries receiving low-income subsidies will have access to a larger number of plans that have no monthly premiums, according to the Kaiser Foundation.

But good news comes in the form of 2011 "donut hole" cov
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