Part D premiums rise 24 percent

The pharma friend that is Medicare Part D will be more expensive for seniors next year. On average, premiums for the 10 most popular drug-coverage plans will leap by 31 percent. And for all standalone drug plans, the average price hike amounts to 24 percent, to $37 monthly. Meanwhile, Center for Medicare Services chief Kerry Weems is warning that plans may have made "significant" changes in coverage, and he urges seniors to carefully scrutinize their drug plans.

One area that Weems pointed out was drug coverage during the "gap"--the so-called donut hole where benefits drop off once seniors have spent $2,510 on meds. Beneficiaries can buy extra coverage to span the gap, but at an additional cost, of course.

Health plans are blaming their own inaccurate forecasting for increased premiums and coverage cuts. "If [premium] prices are increasing more on the midlevel plans, it's simply because our experience tells us that's where we need to be--premium-wise--to cover our actual costs plus a small margin," a Humana spokesman said. And UnitedHealth Group blamed high Medicare drug costs for its poor earnings this year.

- see the story at WebMD
- read the Wall Street Journal's article