Comparing Plans

Medicare Part C vs. Medicare Part D

Medicare Part C (or Medicare Advantage) and Medicare Part D (prescription drug plans) are a pair of options for Medicare beneficiaries. Learn more about what exactly these plans are, how they differ, and how you can make an informed choice about which might be the right fit for your needs.

There are four different parts to Medicare: Part A, Part B, Part C and Part D. Current and potential Medicare beneficiaries may find these labels confusing, but with the right knowledge, you can make an informed decision about which Medicare plan might be the right fit your needs.

In this article, we’ll examine Medicare Part C (also commonly known as Medicare Advantage) vs. Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage).

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Medicare Part C

Medicare Part C is often referred to as Medicare Advantage. But the Medicare Advantage program is not just one universal plan.

There are a number of different Medicare Advantage plans offered by insurance companies all over the country, though plan availability will depend on where you live.

Medicare Advantage plans can work similarly to traditional health insurance plans in that you pay a premium (although some plans feature $0 monthly premiums) to belong to a plan and may then have cost-sharing responsibilities such as copays or coinsurance and a deductible. Plans typically have a provider care network.

There are three primary ways in which Medicare Advantage plans differ from Original Medicare (Medicare Part A and Part B):

  • It is not a single, one-size-fits-all standardized plan. Rather it is a large collection of plans, each offering its own set of benefits and costs.

  • They are private plans, unlike Original Medicare, which is administered by the federal government.

  • Some Medicare Advantage plans may offer additional benefits not found in Original Medicare, such as dental, vision, hearing and prescription drug coverage.

Medicare Part D

Medicare Part D plans offer prescription drug coverage and are often referred to as a “Prescription Drug Plan,” or PDP.

Like Medicare Advantage plans, Part D plans require that you pay a premium (in most cases) to belong to a plan, and you may also be responsible for paying copayments or coinsurance for covered prescription drugs as well as a deductible. And again, your plan may have a network of preferred pharmacies, and it may not.

Medicare Part D plans differ from Medicare Advantage plans in a number of ways, including:

  • There is a selection of Part D plans depending on where you live, with each plan offering its own list of covered drugs under its own terms. The list of drugs a PDP covers is known as a “formulary."

  • Part D plans are sold by private insurers.

Medicare Part D plans do not offer vision or dental coverage, in the way that some Medicare Advantage plans might. Part D plans provide coverage for prescription drugs only.

Are you looking for Medicare prescription drug coverage?

You can compare Part D plans available where you live and enroll in a Medicare prescription drug plan online in as little as 10 minutes when you visit

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The differences between Part C and Part D

Medicare Advantage plans and Medicare Part D plans can be different in a number of ways.

Coverage of services

As previously mentioned, a Medicare Advantage plan may cover services such as blood work, dental exams and hospital stays.

By law, Medicare Advantage plans must cover everything that is covered by Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) and Part B (medical insurance). Medicare Part A still covers hospice care, even if you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan.

Medicare Advantage plans may also cover vision and hearing care, or even prescription drugs. Medicare Advantage plans that cover prescription drugs are called MA-PDs.

90 percent of Medicare Advantage plans will offer prescription drug coverage in 2020.2

Part D plans, on the other hand, cover only prescription drugs.


In order to be eligible for a Medicare Advantage plan, you must be enrolled in both Part A and Part B of Medicare (and you must continue to pay your Medicare Part B premiums in addition to your Medicare Advantage premium).

To become eligible for a Part D plan, you must only be enrolled in Part A or Part B (or both). You must continue to pay you Part B premiums along with your Part D premium.

Both types of plans may be available to people under 65 who qualify for Medicare because of a certain disability or illness. People with End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) generally may not sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan.

Coverage area

The coverage area for a Medicare Advantage plan is often based on your zip code or county of residence. Some Part D plans can encompass larger coverage areas and can even include multiple states on the same plan.


The cost of Medicare Advantage plans and Part D plans can also differ quite significantly.

  • The average premium for a Medicare Advantage plan that offers prescription drug coverage in 2020 will be $36 per month, though 49 percent of MA-PD plans in 2020 will charge no premium.2

  • The average 2020 premium for a Part D plan is expected to be $42.05 per month.3

The costs of any one particular plan can vary greatly from others.

For Medicare Advantage plans, costs can be determined largely by the array of services that are offered.

When it comes to out-of-pocket expenses, there is an annual out-of-pocket limit for all Medicare Advantage plans . The out-of-pocket spending limit can vary from plan to plan.

Some Medicare Advantage plans do not have a deductible. Some plans may also have a $0 premium, though $0 premium plans may not be available in all locations.

Most Medicare Advantage plans use copays for patient cost-sharing. A copay is a flat-fee, as opposed to the percentage-based coinsurance.

For Part D plans, costs typically run concurrent with the four “tiers” in which drugs are categorized:

  • The lowest tier drugs are considered the less expensive, such as generic drugs and the least expensive brand names.

  • The highest tier drugs are typically specialty drugs and the most expensive brand name medications.

Part D plans may or may not have a deductible. If they do, it may not be more than $435 per year in 2020.

Part D plans also contain a coverage gap, commonly known as the “doughnut hole.” The doughnut hole begins once you’ve spent $4,020 and lasts until you spend $6,350 out-of-pocket for the year in 2020.

While you are in this doughnut hole, Part D plan coverage can vary.

The cost of both Medicare Advantage plans and Part D plans can also be influenced by the type of plan (HMO, PPO or others) and the local area in which they are sold.


Medicare Advantage plans and Part D plans are both popular among Medicare beneficiaries.

  • There were more than 22 million Medicare Advantage plan beneficiaries in 2019. The average number of Medicare Advantage plans with drug coverage made available to each Medicare beneficiary will be 24 in 2020.2

  • There were 45 million Part D beneficiaries in 2019. The average Medicare beneficiary will have access to 28 Part D plans in 2020.3

There will be 3,148 Medicare Advantage plans available nationwide in 2020. A total of 948 standalone Medicare Part D plans will be available in 2020.

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Choosing between Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D

You are not allowed to be enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan that offers prescription drug coverage and a Part D plan at the same time. 

If you do not take any prescription drugs but want the additional benefits offered by a Medicare Advantage plan (such as hearing, vision and dental coverage), or if you take prescription medication and your drugs are covered by a Medicare Advantage plan, you might consider applying for a Medicare Advantage plan.

You might choose to enroll in a Part D plan if you have no need for the extra services that might be provided by a Medicare Advantage plan but you want prescription drug coverage. 

If your Medicare Advantage plan does not offer prescription drug coverage, you can enroll in a Medicare Prescription Drug plan as well.


Enrollment is one area in which Medicare Advantage and Part D plans can be similar.

Both types of plans utilize the Medicare Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) and the Annual Enrollment Period (AEP, also called the fall Open Enrollment Period), where you may join, change or drop coverage for each type of plan.

Call to speak with a licensed insurance agent today and learn more about your health care and prescription drug coverage options. Find the plan that makes the most sense for you. 


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About the author

Christian Worstell is a licensed insurance agent and a Senior Staff Writer for He is passionate about helping people navigate the complexities of Medicare and understand their coverage options.

His work has been featured in outlets such as Vox, MSN, and The Washington Post, and he is a frequent contributor to health care and finance blogs.

Christian is a graduate of Shippensburg University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He currently lives in Raleigh, NC.

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