Consumer Reports: Medicare confusion costs taxpayers money

Investigators find stark price differences for prescriptions in 6 sample cities


Drug costs vary widely even for Medicare recipients, possibly costing seniors hundreds, even thousands of dollars.

That's one of the findings of a recent Consumer Reports investigation, a report so eye-opening that the Senate invited a CR investigative reporter to Capitol Hill to testify about prescription pricing problems. 

Consumer Reports found that what consumers pay for their medications could vary by hundreds of dollars, even in the same city.

It looked at six cities and found stark price differences in all of them.

In Dallas, CR found that a person enrolled in a low-cost $100 deductible Medicare Part D plan would end up paying an annual cost of $1,592. But another plan in the area with a $415 deductible would have a total annual cost of just $574. 

WATCH: Consumer Reports: How to lower medication costs

And worse, small mistakes during the sign-up process could cost consumers a tremendous amount of money.

Why? In 2018 the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services gave insurers more flexibility in designing prescription drug plans. The change was supposed to give consumers more options, but it backfired.

The plans ended up being so complex they made comparison price shopping difficult. And the plan finder tool at medicare.gov is difficult to use and compare plans with one another.

CR’s analysis also found that the price of drugs can differ significantly at drugstores.

In Denver, the total cost of five generic drugs at Walgreens was $1,687 through a SilverScript plan. About 4 miles away, at an independent, Cherry Creek Pharmacy, the same five drugs with the same plan would cost $688, almost $1,000 less.

More and more seniors are having to choose between getting their prescription drugs or paying for groceries or other necessities.

Patients must come first, and that means putting an end to the greedy practices of insurance companies that are leaving patients without the coverage they thought they had, investigators said.