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How to enroll in Medicare Part D

An older woman reading and learning about Medicare Part D enrollment

If you are applying for Medicare for the first time, you can add a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan through a private insurer like Anthem, after you enroll in Original Medicare.

Medicare Parts A and B, also known as Original Medicare, do not cover prescription drugs (outside of medications prescribed to you during a hospital visit). For drug coverage, you need to choose a Medicare Part D plan.

Be sure to compare Medicare Part D plan costs before you enroll.

More details on Medicare Part D

Medicare Part D is optional additional insurance for prescription drugs. Whether you're managing a health condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure with regular prescriptions or you just need the occasional medication, Part D insurance can often save you money. Private insurers such as Anthem offer Medicare Part D, and they tend to have many choices in providers and plans.

Medicare Part D enrollment periods

Initial Enrollment Period

Your first enrollment period for Medicare Part D is called the Initial Enrollment Period (IEP). That's a seven-month window that includes:

  • Three months before you turn 65
  • The month you turn 65
  • Three months after you turn 65

During this time, you can apply for Part D coverage along with Medicare Part A and Part B. To avoid penalties, it's best to enroll in Part D as soon as you're eligible even if you are not taking prescription medications.

Medicare Part D Annual Enrollment Period

You still can add Part D coverage after your IEP. You can make changes to your plan, including adding coverage, during the Annual Enrollment Period, which is October 15 to December 7.

Compare Medicare Part D plans before you enroll

You have many options for prescription drug coverage, so there are a few things to consider when you're comparing Medicare Part D plans:

  • Look for plans with generic prescription drug tiers, as generics often cost less than brand-name prescription medicines.
  • Know how much you will pay in copays and coinsurance; basically, what you pay when you pick up your medicine at the pharmacy.
  • Know and compare your monthly premiums and annual deductibles. Don't forget to include Medicare Part B premiums and deductibles so you know your complete healthcare expenses.
  • Make sure the plan you select covers the medications you use. All Part D plan providers include a formulary or list of medications covered.
  • See if your Part D plan includes a pharmacy network. You may pay less by picking up your medications from in-network pharmacies.

Avoiding the Medicare Part D penalty

If you don’t sign up for a Part D plan when you’re first eligible, or you’ve gone 63 days or more without creditable drug coverage after your IEP, you’ll pay a monthly late enrollment Medicare Part D penalty while you have Part D coverage. While the fee is typically only a few dollars each month, it can add up over time.

Prescription drug coverage through a Medicare Advantage plan

Another way to receive prescription drug coverage is through a Medicare Advantage prescription drug (MAPD) plan, which combines Part C and Part D. These comprehensive plans are available through Medicare-approved private insurers like Anthem. Many of the plans include prescription drug coverage, plus many other benefits.

These one-stop-shop plans may include dental care, vision care, hearing care, and wellness and fitness memberships, along with prescription drug coverage. If you have a Medicare Advantage plan that includes prescription drugs (which most do), you don't need a separate Part D plan.

Explore all your options for Medicare prescription drug plans. Compare costs and coverage.

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