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Should I Consider a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug Plan (MAPD)?

Read our guide to Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug Plans to discover the different plans, what they cover, how you can enroll and if an MAPD plan could benefit you.

Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug (MAPD) plans offer an alternative way for eligible beneficiaries to receive their Medicare benefits. These bundled, convenient plans also include coverage for prescription medications.

If you're considering joining the 24 million people already enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, continue reading to find out if an MAPD plan is right for you.

What is a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan?

A Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan ­– or MAPD – is a Medicare Advantage plan that includes Medicare Part D coverage for prescribed medications.

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When you qualify for Medicare, you have two options:

  • One is to enroll in Original Medicare, which is comprised of Medicare Part A hospital insurance and Medicare Part B medical insurance.
  • Alternatively, you could choose an all-in-one Medicare Advantage (MA) plan, also called Medicare Part C.

Private health insurance companies sell Medicare Advantage policies, which typically offer benefits beyond that of Original Medicare. Most Medicare Advantage plans also include prescription drug coverage. These plans are called MAPD plans.

Examples of some of the benefits some Medicare Advantage plans may offer can include medications, gym membership, wellness programs, vision and dental care. Some MA plans even provide coverage for alternative therapies, meal delivery and transportation services.

What is a Medicare Part D plan?

Medicare beneficiaries can receive prescription drug coverage either through a stand-alone Part D plan (used alongside Original Medicare) or through a bundled MAPD plan.

Like MA plans, Part D plans are sold by private insurance companies. These plans use a drug list called a formulary that outlines the covered prescription drugs for that plan.

The formulary organizes medicines into pricing tiers, with tier 1 generic drugs typically being the least costly. The amount you pay for medication depends on the tier.  Formularies differ between plans and between the insurance providers.

It's essential that before enrolling in any MAPD – or in an independent Part D plan – you review the formulary to make sure that your prescription medications are included.

What are the types of MAPD plans?

There are various types of MAPD plans available. Depending on your location, the types of plans that may be available can typically include:

  • Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) plans – These plans typically use a specified provider network, and services received outside of the network aren’t covered except in the case of emergency care.

  • Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plans ­– These plans will pay for services received outside of the provider network, but they will be less expensive if you stay within the network. Because these plans are less restrictive than an HMO plan, premium costs are typically higher.

  • Private Fee-for-Service (PFFS) plans – A PFFS plan can provide greater flexibility, as you aren’t required to select a primary care physician and you are typically not restricted to a provider network.

  • Special Needs Plans (SNPs) – ­­These plans can provide tailored care for those with specific chronic medical conditions, people with low incomes or care home residents.

What do Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug Plan premiums cost?

If you've been exploring MA plans, you may have noticed that there can be considerable price variation from one plan to another. Some companies may offer plans with $0 premiums, whereas other plan premiums could cost more than $100. In 2021, the average monthly premium for an MAPD plan is $33.57 per month.

A $0 monthly premium may seem like an impossible bargain at first glance. However, with many Medicare Advantage plans, you must continue to pay the premiums for Original Medicare.

  • Most people do not pay a premium for Medicare Part A, providing they have paid enough Medicare taxes during their working life.

  • The standard Part B monthly premium is currently $148.50 per month in 2021. You may not need to cover this cost in its entirety if you have a Medicare Advantage plan, as some MA plans may help pay for some or all of your Part B premium.

Are there other Medicare Advantage costs?

Aside from the cost of the Original Medicare premiums and MA plan premium, there are also out-of-pocket expenses often associated with MAPD plans. These costs can include deductibles and coinsurance or copayments.

Deductibles

A deductible is the amount of money the beneficiary must pay for covered health care services before their Medicare Advantage plan begins to pay.

For most health care services, you'll pay the full cost until the deductible is paid. After this, you will then pay either coinsurance or a copayment.

Many MAPD plans may have two deductibles. One deductible is for general health care costs and a second for Part D prescription drug coverage, which cannot exceed $445 per year in 2021. However, some plans may offer a $0 medical deductible and/or a $0 drug deductible.

Coinsurance

A coinsurance cost is a percentage cost of a health care service. For example, Medicare Part B charges a 20% coinsurance for most covered services after you meet your Part B deductible.

Copayment

MA plans may charge a set amount for a covered health care service or drugs, which is called a copay. For example, generic drugs may have a $5 copay, whereas brand-name drugs may have a $25 copay.

Unlike Original Medicare, Medicare Advantage plans typically have a specified maximum out-of-pocket (MOOP) spending limit for the year for Part A and Part B services. This limits how much you will have to contribute to your health care costs each year.

The exact costs you will pay may depend on your individual MA plan, your benefits and if you use an in-network provider.

What is the Medicare donut hole?

Some Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug Plans have what is known as a “donut hole” or “coverage gap,” which is a temporary limit on how much the drug plan will pay for prescription drug costs.

Generally, once you and your drug plan spend more than $4,130 (in 2021) in a single year on prescription drugs, you enter the coverage gap. While you are in the coverage gap, you are responsible for paying a larger portion for covered drugs until you reach $6,550.

Once you’ve spent $6,550 on prescription drugs in 2021, you will leave the donut hole and enter catastrophic coverage. While in the catastrophic coverage phase, you only pay a small coinsurance or copayment for covered drugs for the remainder of the year.

Is an MAPD plan right for me?

Original Medicare coverage is limited to hospital and medical services. By choosing a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan, your medications may also be covered, plus some plans may offer a range of other benefits. An MADP plan can provide the convenience of “all-in-one” coverage and the reassurance that your out-of-pocket health care spending is limited.

Your choice of health care providers could be more limited with some Medicare Advantage plans than with Original Medicare. If you are considering an MAPD plan, it's worth taking time to compare the coverage details for each of the available plans in your area. An MAPD plan may offer more affordable coverage than Original Medicare, but more rules to follow.

Find MAPD plans in your area

A licensed insurance agent can help you find Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug Plans in your area and help you enroll in a plan that works for you.

When you speak with an agent, you can compare plans from a number of different insurance providers. Some of the MAPD plan options that may be available to you can include:

Not all plans are offered in all locations, and some carriers may not provide an MAPD plan where you live. A licensed agent can help you review the availability, costs and benefits of Medicare plans in your area.

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Zia

About the author

Zia Sherrell is a digital health journalist with over a decade of healthcare experience, a bachelor’s degree in science from the University of Leeds and a master’s degree in public health from the University of Manchester. Her work has appeared in Netdoctor, Medical News Today, Healthline, Business Insider, Cosmopolitan, Yahoo, Harper's Bazaar, Men's Health and more.

When she’s not typing madly, Zia enjoys traveling and chasing after her dogs.