Medicare

What's the Best Medicare Part D Plan?

What's the Best Medicare Part D Plan?

A Medicare Part D plan with at least 3.5 stars is a good choice for prescription drug coverage, and Humana is our top-pick for the best overall insurer.

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For most people, the best Medicare Part D plan for prescription drugs will have a high star rating, reasonable monthly costs and a good formulary of covered medications. While all Part D policies will cover a broad range of prescription drugs, comparing plans that cover your medication needs can help you decide if the plan will provide the right health coverage. Learn the key differences between insurance companies to help you choose the best Medicare Part D plan for you.

Our picks: Top Medicare Part D plans for 2022

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Unlike other types of Medicare, Part D enrollment is concentrated in a few major insurance companies. Most plans will provide a similar set of basic benefits. However, the plan's details, including the annual deductible amount, will determine which prescription drug plan has benefits that meet your needs.

Best-rated Medicare Part D providers

Prescription drug plans, called Medicare Part D, are stand-alone policies purchased from private insurance companies. The plans give you coverage for specific drugs that are not included in your Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) and Medicare Part B (medical insurance) coverages.

While some prescription drugs administered at a hospital or doctor's office may be covered by Medicare Parts A or B, you'll need additional prescription drug coverage for any medications you take at home or prescriptions you have filled.

Your Medicare drug coverage options include a stand-alone prescription plan (Medicare Part D), or you can bundle your prescription drug coverage into a single Medicare Advantage plan that combines together Medicare Parts A, B and D with other optional coverage.

A great way to assess the quality of a prescription drug plan is to look at the star ratings for each policy listed on Medicare.gov. The ratings for individual plans vary, and the average ratings below can help you understand the overall performance of each company's Medicare Part D program and which company has the most satisfied customers.

Rank
Medicare Part D provider
Medicare star rating for Part D plans
Popular*
Average monthly cost
1Kaiser Permanente4.9$33
2UnitedHealthcare (AARP)3.9
$52
3BlueCross BlueShield (Anthem)3.9$69
4Humana3.8
$38
5CVS Health (Aetna and Silverscript)3.75
$35
6Cigna (Express Scripts)3.7$40
7Centene (WellCare)3.6
$32

* The top four most popular companies account for 80% of all Part D enrollees.

Other providers that have lower-rated Medicare Part D plans include Rite Aid Corporation (3.5 stars), Banner Health (3.5 stars), Clover Health (3.25 stars), EmblemHealth (3.1 stars) and Bright Health (3 stars).

About the data and how we picked the best plans

Star ratings

Kaiser Permanente is the only provider in our group that has an average star rating higher than 4.0. For other providers, the average rating of available plans falls between 3.5 and 4.0. For most enrollees, this is the sweet spot for a highly rated prescription drug plan. In 2021, about 81% of Part D enrollees had a plan with 3.5 to 4.0 stars, and only 14% had plans with more than four stars.

Costs

In 2022, the average out-of-pocket cost for Medicare Part D is $33. The cost of Medicare Part D is calculated a little differently, and this out-of-pocket rate is based on basic coverage after income adjustments for low-income subsidies and additional premiums for high-income earners.

Rather than looking at out-of-pocket costs after income adjustments, the average monthly costs we share in our analysis are based on what the providers are charging for plans. This is the total premium cost including basic and supplemental drug coverage that could provide features such as reduced lower copays, additional drug discounts or cost-sharing during the coverage gap.

The average rate that providers charge for Medicare Part D is $42 per month with an average deductible of $344.

Drug formularies

The drug formulary of a Medicare Part D plan is one of its most important features. It specifies the list of drugs that are covered along with their tier classification. Ultimately, this will determine how much you pay for your medications.

Companies have similarly sized formularies because they're all required to provide a broad range of drugs including at least two drugs per medication category. Although the size of the formulary isn't used to determine our rankings, the details of a formulary should be used to pick the best plan for your needs. Compare your coverage options based on the specific drugs you take to ensure it will support your exact medication needs.

Kaiser Permanente: Best value Part D

Top-rated and affordable prescription plans, but only available in select regions.
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Medicare stars: 4.9 out of 5

Avg. monthly cost: $33

Avg. drug deductible: $76

NAIC Complaint Index: 0.77 (fewer complaints than the industry average of 1.00)

The HMO prescription drug plans from Kaiser Permanente have an extremely high rating averaging 4.9 stars. This top rating is not a fluke, and the company's Medicare plans have been rated at least 4.5 stars for the past decade.

With a low monthly cost and a low deductible, these Medicare Part D plans are the best value.

Availability is limited, and plans are only offered in California, Colorado, Georgia Hawaii, Maryland, Oregon, Virginia, Washington State and Washington, D.C. Medicare Part D options vary by region, and some counties have plans where Tier 1 drugs can be purchased with a copayment even if you haven't met the deductible, helping to make generic drugs more affordable.

Kaiser Permanente also has one of the best Medicare Advantage plans if you want to bundle your prescription coverage with other parts of Medicare into a single plan.

UnitedHealthcare (AARP): Easiest to use

Popular and well-rated, but expect slightly higher monthly costs.
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Medicare stars: 3.9 out of 5

Avg. monthly cost: $52

Avg. Part D drug deductible: $301

NAIC Complaint Index: 0.53 (half as many complaints as the industry average of 1.00)

Read more: United Healthcare insurance review

UnitedHealthcare is a major insurance company that expanded its base of Medicare subscribers through its affiliation with AARP. Whether the plan name says UnitedHealthcare or AARP, UnitedHealthcare is the company that is providing the insurance benefits.

Prescription drug plans are widely available in all 50 states, Washington D.C. and several U.S. territories. Plans are very well-rated, averaging 3.9 stars. However, average monthly costs are more expensive than some other providers.

The insurer does offer ways to help members reduce the amount they spend on prescription drugs. This includes a network of preferred pharmacies that offer better prices and the option to order a discounted three-month supply through OptumRx mail order.

For low-cost generic drugs, choose the AARP MedicareRx Walgreens plan, which offers Tier 1 drugs for a copayment rather than requiring you to meet the plan's deductible. The company also has some of the best Medicare Supplement plans if you want to reduce costs for other types of health care.

BlueCross BlueShield (Anthem): Largest network of pharmacies

Expensive plans are well-rated, have a large pharmacy network and offer strong coverage options.
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Medicare stars: 3.9 out of 5

Avg. monthly cost: $69

Avg. Part D drug deductible: $241

NAIC Complaint Index: Variable based on subsidiary

Read more: Anthem health insurance review

Prescription drug plans from BlueCross BlueShield (BCBS), and its subsidiary Anthem, have strong average ratings with 3.9 stars. However, the monthly costs are the highest of all of the best-rated providers we profile here.

Despite the cost, plans from BCBS and its subsidiaries have several advantages.

Standard coverage options are robust, and many plans provide features such as additional cost-sharing during the coverage gap and low or $0 copays for generic drugs. There's a very large network that includes most of the pharmacies in the country, and about half of the pharmacies are considered preferred, giving you wide access to discounted rates. The company also offers medication home delivery for those who regularly take medications.

Keep in mind that the major insurance company has many subsidiaries. The Part D plans that are available in your area may have better or worse ratings based on how your local BCBS subsidiary is managed. For example, BCBS of Massachusetts has an average of 4.25 for its prescription drug plans while BCBS of South Carolina has 3.25 stars.

Humana: Best overall

Well-rated and affordable prescription drug plans, but Humana customers complain about slow customer service.
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Medicare stars: 3.8 out of 5

Avg. monthly cost: $38

Avg. Part D drug deductible: $265

NAIC Complaint Index: 1.82 (much higher than the industry average of 1.00)

Read more: Humana health insurance review

Humana prescription drug plans have good overall coverage. Plans are well-rated, affordable and widely available.

The insurer offers strong features, including a good service for medication delivery. According to J.D. Power, Humana's mail order pharmacy ranked #1 in customer satisfaction. Plus, the many plans to choose from can help you get the coverage level that meets your prescription needs and your budget.

A key point of caution is the insurance company's many complaints. Across all of its insurance products, Humana has nearly twice the rate of complaints as the industry average, and many policyholders comment on the poor customer service.

Humana Walmart Value Rx and Humana Premier Rx are high-deductible plans that are widely available and offer affordable generic drugs, helping you to spend less out of pocket. If you want a zero deductible plan, opt for HumanaChoice or Humana Gold Plus, which are available in select locations.

CVS Health (Aetna and Silverscript): Best plan features

Popular plans are affordable and widely available.
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Medicare stars: 3.75 out of 5

Avg. monthly cost: $35

Avg. Part D drug deductible: $250

NAIC Complaint Index: Variable based on subsidiary

CVS Health and its subsidiaries, Aetna and Silverscript, are very popular for prescription drug coverage, accounting for about 23% of all Medicare Part D enrollments.

Plans are affordably priced, and the SilverScript SmartRx plan costs just $7.15 per month. The strongest coverage is available with the SilverScript Plus plan, which has a $0 deductible across all drug tiers and additional gap coverage.

A key advantage of these plans is that members get access to the digital tools of CVS Caremark. This includes resources for prescription pricing, discounts, deductible tracking, spending summaries and more.

Note that CVS Caremark mail order pharmacy had the worst customer satisfaction of all pharmacies studied by J.D. Power. This reveals that even when plan coverage is strong, there could be frustrations when ordering medications via mail.

If you want to combine your prescription drug coverage with other types of Medicare, Aetna offers some of the cheapest Medicare Advantage plans on the market.

Cigna (Express Scripts): Best low-cost generic drugs

Well-rated and moderately priced Part D plans are available nationwide.
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Medicare stars: 3.7

Avg. monthly cost: $40

Avg. Part D drug deductible: $303

NAIC Complaint Index: 1.04 (about average)

Read more: Cigna health insurance review

Cigna-HealthSpring and its subsidiary Express Scripts offer prescription drug plans in all 50 states. With reasonable monthly costs and strong ratings, these Part D plans are a good choice for many people.

You'll get better prices on medications by using Cigna's in-network pharmacies, and the lowest prices are usually available through home delivery from Express Scripts Pharmacy.

Express Scripts has three insurance plan categories to choose from: Saver, Value and Choice. Cigna also has three categories: Secure Rx, Secure-Essential RX and Secure-Extra Rx. All plans offer low-cost generic drugs, but the Express Scripts plans provide free generic drugs. For those who want coverage during the policy gap (also called the donut hole), choose the Cigna Secure-Extra Rx or Express Scripts Medicare Choice plan.

Centene (WellCare): Lowest monthly rates

Affordable and popular prescription drug plans, but many have high deductibles.
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Medicare stars: 3.6 out of 5

Avg. monthly cost: $32

Avg. Part D drug deductible: $365

NAIC Complaint Index: 0.15 (very few complaints)

With both HMO and PPO prescription drug plans available, Cetene and its subsidiary WellCare provide a broad selection of plan options.

The Medicare Part D plans are widely available and moderately well ranked. Rankings do vary by location, so check to see how your local plans score. Notably, WellCare's prescription insurance has a very low rate of consumer complaints, only about one-sixth of the average rate.

Plans are affordable, averaging $32 per month, and there are no deductible requirements for generic drugs when with WellCare Value Script, WellCare Wellness Rx and WellCare Medicare Rx Select.

How to choose the best Medicare Part D plan for you

Most people will have about 30 Medicare Part D plans to choose from, and it's not always clear which is the best plan for your prescription medication needs. To help you choose your plan, ask yourself these seven questions:

  1. How much drug coverage do I need? Consider how many medications you take regularly and the medications you may need in the coming year. If you have significant pharmacy needs or are managing ongoing illnesses, it may be a better deal to sign up for a more expensive plan that offers better coverage. You can change your plan during open enrollment if you need more or less coverage.
  2. What plans are available in my area? Entering your zip code into Medicare.gov can help you find out which insurance providers and specific plans are available in your region.
  3. Which plan has the best star rating? The number of stars each plan has on Medicare.gov measures the quality of the plan as well as the experience of being a policyholder. In 2021, Medicare adjusted the formula to more accurately show the member experience by giving more weight to patient complaints and access details.
  4. Are the medications I take covered, and how much will they cost? Check the plan's formulary to find out about medication coverage and tier classification. If your medication is in a higher tier, you could have to spend more out of pocket, and some plans have a separate deductible for Tier 3, 4 or 5 drugs.
  5. What's the final cost I'll pay each month for the Medicare Part D plan? The monthly cost of the plan, also called the premium, is the base rate of how much the plan costs. For those who have low incomes, there are cost-savings programs such as Extra Help, which can lower your monthly bills and make medication costs more affordable. On the other hand, those who have individual income above $88,000 would pay an additional surcharge on top of the base rate for the Medicare Part D plan.
  6. Do I have diabetes, cancer or another ongoing condition? The best medicare Part D plan for diabetes, cancer or other ongoing illnesses will have coverage during the gap as well as either a low or no deductible. If you have diabetes, look for a plan that is participating in the new Insulin Savings program that launched in 2021. With these plans, you'll pay a maximum of $35 for a month's supply of insulin.
  7. Do I expect to have very high prescription drug costs? If you expect to spend more than $6,550 on prescription drugs, choose a plan that has the lowest catastrophic coverage rates. During this catastrophic phase, you'll pay a small percentage of all drug costs. For example, some cancer drugs can cost about $18,000 per month, and paying 2% of costs instead of 5% of costs can save you hundreds of dollars per month.
  8. Are my local pharmacies in the preferred network? Check to see if there are convenient pharmacies near you that are within the insurance company's network.

Frequently asked questions

Is Medicare Part D worth it?

A prescription drug plan through Medicare Part D is worth it for most people who do not bundle their drug coverage into a Medicare Advantage plan. Medicare Part D makes prescription drugs more affordable, and basic coverage could be available for as little as $5 or $10 per month. Those who have a low income can get a reduced rate for Medicare Part D plans.

What drugs are covered by Medicare Part D?

The list of covered drugs is determined by each insurance provider in what's known as a drug formulary. All companies are required to cover at least two medications in each drug category, but the specific medications vary. The formulary will also determine each drug's tier and how much you'll pay. Tier 1 drugs are low-cost generics, and Tier 5 drugs are expensive or specialty medications.

How much does Medicare Part D cost?

Consumers pay an average of $33 per month for Medicare Part D plans. However, the amount you pay will vary based on the plan you choose and any income-based adjustments such as low-income discounts.

How do you sign up for Medicare Part D?

You can sign up for a Medicare prescription drug plan through Medicare.gov. The online tool will guide you through the plans that are available in your area, how well they're rated and your total annual medication costs. You're first eligible for Medicare Part D during the seven-month period around your 65th birthday, including your birthday month and the three months before and after. If you don't enroll in Medicare Part D during this initial enrollment, you'll have to pay a late enrollment fee.

Methodology and sources

The above comparisons are based on average star ratings, monthly premiums, deductible amounts, policy details and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) complaint index. Averages were calculated based on the insurance provider, and data was sourced from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Medicare Part D Performance Data and Medicare Part D Plan and Premium Data.

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.