Fall Open Enrollment is the time of year when you can change your Medicare coverage. If you reenroll in a plan during open enrollment, your coverage starts January 1. In most cases, Fall Open Enrollment is the only time you can pick a new Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D plan.

Medicare Part D, also called the Medicare prescription drug benefit, is a United States federal government program to subsidize the costs of prescription drugs and prescription drug insurance premiums for Medicare beneficiaries. It was enacted as part of the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 (which also made changes to the public Part C Medicare health plan program) and went into effect on January 1, 2006.

Individuals on Medicare are eligible for prescription drug coverage under a Part D plan if they are signed up for benefits under Medicare Part A and/or Part B. Beneficiaries obtain the Part D drug benefit through two types of plans administered by private insurance companies: the beneficiaries can join a stand-alone Prescription Drug Plan (PDP) for drug coverage only, or they can join a public Part C health plan that jointly covers all hospital and medical services covered by Medicare Part A and Part B at a minimum, and typically covers additional healthcare costs not covered by Medicare Parts A and B including prescription drugs (MA-PD).

Generally, not all drugs are covered at the same out of pocket cost to the beneficiary. This gives participants incentives to choose certain drugs over others. This is most often implemented – as is the case for drug coverage for those not on Medicare – through incentives to use generic drugs over brand-name drugs. The incentive is also often implemented via a system of tiered formularies in which some brand-name drugs are less expensive than others and not subject to step therapy.

Medicare has made available an interactive online tool called the Medicare Plan Finder that allows for comparison of coverage and costs for all plans in a geographic area. The tool allows you to enter a list of medications along with pharmacy preferences. It can show the beneficiary’s total annual costs for each plan along with a detailed breakdown of the plans’ monthly premiums, deductibles, and prices for each drug during each phase of the benefit design. Plans are required to update this site with current prices and formulary information every other week throughout the year.

Even if you are satisfied with your current Medicare coverage, it makes sense to look at other Medicare options in your area that may better suit your individual needs in the upcoming year. For example, even if you are satisfied with your current Medicare Advantage or Part D plan, you should check to see if there is another plan in your area that will offer you better health and/or drug coverage at a more affordable price. Research shows that people with Medicare prescription drug coverage (Part D) could lower their costs by shopping among plans each year; there could be another Part D plan in your area that covers the drugs you take with fewer restrictions and/or lower prices.

You may also want to contact a reputable Medicare insurance broker and have them help you with the process. The plan with the lowest monthly premium may not be the least expensive overall when you factor in co-pays and deductibles.