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Study: Seniors can save big money in Medicare drug plans

Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2005

New Study Finds Seniors Can Save More than $5,000 with Medicare Drug Benefit by Switching to Alternative Medicines
Selecting medicines based on evidence, not advertising, saves seniors, taxpayers

(Washington, D.C.) – Seniors struggling with the new Medicare drug benefit could save thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs by first talking with their doctor about switching to alternative, effective low-cost medicines before signing up with a drug plan, according to a new analysis by Consumers Union.
The analysis found that seniors taking five commonly prescribed drugs – for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, arthritis pain and depression – could save between $2,300 and $5,300 a year under various Medicare Part D insurance plans by switching to safe, effective and low-cost drugs identified as “Best Buys” by Consumer Reports (www.CRBestBuyDrugs.org). The free public education project uses scientific evidence to identify safe, effective and low-cost prescription drugs.
By lowering their drug costs while joining Medicare Part D, seniors also can avoid falling into the “doughnut hole” – the coverage gap that begins with most plans once seniors’ total drug costs reach $2,250. By switching to Best Buys in all five categories, beneficiaries can avoid the doughnut hole altogether, said Gail Shearer, director of the Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs project.
“Seniors are justifiably confused about the Medicare drug insurance plans because there are so many types of coverage on the market,” Shearer said.
“By switching to low-cost, effective medicines before signing up for the insurance, seniors can have some peace of mind that they’ll have lower out-of-pocket costs no matter what plan they choose.”
Using the Medicare.gov Plan Finder, the analysis selected plans in three metropolitan areas – Sacramento, Calif.; Atlanta, Georgia; and Minneapolis, Minn. – and plugged in a commonly prescribed drug, and a Best Buy drug, in the five drug categories. In California, for example, a senior enrolled in the lowest-cost Medicare insurance plan would save $2,555 a year by switching to Best Buy drugs. Those saving would increase to $3,781 with an average cost plan, and $5,278 with the highest-price plan. Savings were similar in Georgia and Minnesota.
Even if a senior took only one drug, by switching to a Best Buy savings could range from$279 to $2,597 a year, according to the report, “Helping Medicare Beneficiaries Lower Their Out-of-Pocket Costs under the New Prescription Drug Benefit.”
“Having Medicare drug coverage underscores the need for seniors to talk to their doctors and pharmacists about switching to cost-effective drugs,” Shearer said. “If seniors start out with the lowest-cost drugs, Medicare drug plans will be able to save them much more.”
In addition to seniors’ out-of-pocket savings, taxpayers also will benefit by Medicare beneficiaries switching to Best Buys, Shearer said.
“By providing unbiased information about which drugs are most effective and safe, we can counter the wasteful spending on drug advertising and give meaningful financial relief to consumers and taxpayers,” Shearer said.
To read the complete report, click here.

© Consumers Union 2005. The material above is intended for legitimate news entities only; it may not be used for commercial or promotional purposes. Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports®, is an expert, independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves. To achieve this mission, we test, inform, and protect. To maintain our independence and impartiality, CU accepts no outside advertising, no free test samples, and has no agenda other than the interests of consumers. CU supports itself through the sale of our information products and services, individual contributions, and a few noncommercial grants.
Gail Shearer, Susan Herold,
(202) 462-6262