Phil Moeller is doing a series of special pieces to help Considerable readers get ready for Medicare’s annual open enrollment period, which begins Oct. 15 and extends through Dec. 7. During this period, more than 60 million people who already have Medicare can keep their plans or totally change them for 2020.

Many thanks today to Will, a reader who has many of the same questions I did when I took a look at the new Medicare Plan Finder. Unless you use an insurance broker or advisor to help you choose your Medicare coverage for next year, you must use Plan Finder to get the details you need on next year’s plans.

In late August, Medicare released a new Plan Finder. While I support the goals of the changes, I’m afraid this “new and improved” tool is going to create a lot of new and improved confusion during this year’s open enrollment period!

Will agrees. “Have you taken a gander at the ‘new’ iteration of” he writes. “It’s bad, in my opinion.” Among the problems he cites, and which I confirmed in my own review, is that people can no longer access their list of prescribed medications in the new Plan Finder.

Instead, they will need to enter their drugs and re-enter them every time they want to see which Part D drug plans cover their medications and what they charge for them. This can cause enough of a headache to require an additional prescription for a new pain medication!

There is a work-around, but some people may not like it or may be confused by it. If you open a My Medicare account, you can enter your drugs there and only need to do it one time. When you then open up Plan Finder, your My Medicare information should automatically populate the proper fields in the new tool and help you make the needed plan comparisons for 2020 coverage. This is a big improvement. 

Help is on the way

Will also found that the new tool is not as helpful as the old one in allowing him to evaluate Part D plans. “I haven’t found any way to compare two or three drug plans. The old website allowed me to compare up to three plans, side by side.” Others have faulted this shortcoming as well. A Medicare spokesman said additional changes will be made to Plan Finder before Oct. 15.

A Medicare spokesman said additional changes will be made to Plan Finder before Oct. 15.

He said these changes would include addressing perhaps the new tool’s biggest shortcoming — it does not provide total out-of-pocket cost estimates for different plans. This is a big problem, and it drove Will to distraction. 

“The problem is that there’s no way to get a real estimate of one’s total year’s costs, including monthly premiums and drug costs. Thus, I’ve had to print out seven highly-compressed pages of more than 30 possible drug plans, then separately total the yearly cost for the premiums for each of the plans, and then add each of those totals to the new website’s estimates of my yearly drug costs for each of them! Then, and only then, might I have a reasonable idea of my total yearly cost for any particular plan.”

Will has my sympathies and so will you if this flaw is not fixed.

Other issues

Separately, another reader sent me a screen shot of clearly incorrect information in Plan Finder for a Medigap supplement plan. I told Medicare about it, and am waiting for confirmation that the error has been corrected.

Given these problems, I strongly urge Medicare beneficiaries to hold off making 2020 plan enrollments until the beginning or even middle of November. Your choices for 2020 plans will still be effective next Jan. 1. And waiting to decide will give Medicare more time to get it’s act together.

Thanks to Will and other readers for paying attention!