Consumer Reports Investigation: Medicare cost confusion

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Wednesday, March 20, 2019
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Consumer Reports Investigation: Medicare cost confusion - Sharrie Williams reports during Action News at 4:30pm on March 20, 2019.

A new Consumer Reports investigation found that drugs costs vary widely, even for Medicare recipients - an issue that could cost seniors thousands of dollars.

It turns out that report was so eye-opening, a Consumer Reports investigative reporter was invited to Capitol Hill to testify about the vast prescription pricing problems.

"We found that what a consumer could pay for their medications could vary by hundreds of dollars," said Consumer Reports Investigative Reporter, Lisa Gill. Even in the same city.

Consumer Reports' investigation looked at six cities, including Dallas. It found a person there enrolled in a low-cost $100 deductible Medicare Part D plan would end up paying an annual cost of $1,592, but another plan in the area with a $415 deductible would have a total annual cost of just $574.

CR found stark price differences in all six cities.

"And worse, even small mistakes during the sign-up process could cost a consumer a tremendous amount of money," said Gill.

Why? In 2018, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services gave insurers more flexibility when designing prescription drug plans. The change was supposed to give consumers more options, but it backfired. The plans ended up being so complex, making comparison price shopping difficult.

"The plan finder tool is very difficult, not only to use, but also to compare plans against one another," said Gill.

"Increasingly more and more seniors we see are needing to choose between prescription drugs or their other payments for just surviving," said Senator Martha McSally.

CR's analysis also found that the price of drugs can differ dramatically among drugstores. In Denver, the total cost of five generic drugs at Walgreens was $1,687, through a Silver Script plan. About four miles away, at independent Cherry Creek Pharmacy, the same five drugs with the same plan would cost $688, almost one thousand dollars less!

"We've got to be putting patients first and that means putting an end to the greedy practices of insurance companies that are leaving patients without the insurance they thought they had," said Senator Elizabeth Warren.

So what should you do if you think you're paying too much for your prescription?

To read more tips from Consumer Reports on ways to lower what you pay, CLICK HERE.