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3 Reasons Why Seniors Pay Too Much For Medicare Prescription Drug Plans

Is there such thing as being too careful when it comes to buying health insurance? According to a recent study, seniors on average spend $368 more than they need to on their Medicare prescription drug plans.

According to the Health Affairs study, there are a few reasons for this.

1.) So many choices.

There are 1,736 prescription-drug plans available to Medicare beneficiaries under the Medicare's Part D benefit. That's about 50 plans per region; Florida has 35.

2.) Only 5.2 percent of Medicare recipients chose the most economical Part D plan available.

The study found that this happened even after video tutorials, online materials, and printed information were  made available to seniors.

3. ) Seniors tend to overprotect themselves by buying plans with relatively generous features.

The authors found that some seniors looked past their medication needs to choose plans with low deductibles, and ended up with higher premiums.

Co-author Yuting Zhang is a University of Pittsburgh assistant professor. She says that beneficiaries who had physical or mental disorders tended to choose plans about the same way as those who were healthy.  The study did show that seniors spent more the older they got.

Zhang thinks a solution to the overspending might be more government assistance in helping seniors pick their plans.

"If they are able to choose their plans, we could rely on a private market to drive down costs," she said.

But Julie Bennett, who is a community outreach specialist for a senior counseling service in Sacramento, says   the problem lies in the number of variations in each Part D plan.

"It's complicated, and every individual has a different situation," she says.

She says each person and situation is unique and seniors need to be helped individually to ensure they're not overpaying.

Florida offers that kind of help free of charge through a volunteer counseling program called SHINE (Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders). Call 1-800-96ELDER or 1-800-963-5337.

--Sarah Pusateri is a reporter for Health News Florida, journalism for a healthy state, a service of WUSF Public Media.

Sarah Pusateri is a former multimedia health policy reporter for Health News Florida, a project of WUSF. The Buffalo New York native most recently worked as a health reporter for Healthystate.org, a two year grant-funded project at WUSF. There, she co-produced an Emmy Award winning documentary called Uniform Betrayal: Rape in the Military.