What is Medicare Part D?

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 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. This includes people who are 65 years or older and who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, and people under 65 with certain disabilities. 

Part D adds prescription drug coverage to Original Medicare. These drug plans are offered by insurance companies and other private companies approved by Medicare.

How do I sign up for Medicare Part D?

You can join Medicare Part D when you become eligible and join Medicare. There’s a window here to join Medicare of three months before you turn 65 to three months after the month you turn 65). Joining a Medicare drug plan when you are first eligible means you won’t have to pay a late-enrollment penalty. To browse for Part D plans, you can visit the Medicare website at www.medicare.gov and find the Medicare Plan Finder. From there you can answer a few questions and get either a generalized search for plans based on where you live, or a personalized search based on your personal information, such as location, Medicare number, date of birth, and how long you’ve been on Medicare.

Once you’ve chosen a plan, you can enroll through the Medicare Plan Finder on the Medicare website, or you can complete a paper form or call 1-800-MEDICARE.

It’s very important to note here that Medicare Part D is an optional benefit that you don’t have to sign up for. However, if you don’t sign up for a Part D plan when you are first eligible for Medicare and you go without prescription drug coverage for roughly two months or more, you may have to pay a late-enrollment penalty to join a plan later and you will have to continue to pay it as long as you have Medicare prescription drug coverage.

If you are already on a Part D prescription drug plan and your plan coverage changes or your needs change, you can switch plans from October 15 to December 7. When you join or switch to a new Medicare drug plan, your coverage will generally begin on January 1 of the following year.

How do Medicare drug plans work?

After you join a Medicare drug plan, the plan provider will mail you membership materials, including a card to use when you get your prescriptions filled. When you use the card, you may have to pay a copayment, coinsurance, and/or deductible if any are charged by the plan.