Experts Foresee Big Premium Increases for Medicare Drug Plan

With time running out on open enrollment season, many seniors are facing sharply higher premiums for Medicare’s popular prescription drug program. The reason: rising drug costs have overtaken a long stretch of stable premiums.

Beneficiaries have until Dec. 7 to see if there’s a lower-cost plan that will cover their medications in 2016. Consumer advocates and experts say it will pay to shop around this sign-up season.

“Premiums are going up. Deductibles are going up,” said Tricia Neuman, a Medicare expert with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. “There is some potential to save a lot of money by switching plans.”

Government spending on the program also has risen significantly, driven by pricey new drugs, notably for hepatitis C infection. The cost for the hepatitis drugs in the Medicare program is expected to be $9.2 billion this year, a near doubling from 2014. Because of the prescription program’s financial structure, taxpayers cover most of the cost for expensive medications. Three out of four adults infected with hepatitis C are baby boomers, the group now entering Medicare.