04/21/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Is Medicare Part D A Bait And Switch?

An Intelligent friend of mine, who is now on Medicare, just found out inadvertently about yet another deal between Congress and the drug companies. In this deal, Medicare Part D (prescription drug benefit) was passed with a right of the pharmaceutical companies to raise drug prices during the open enrollment period. For the person choosing a plan during the Open Enrollment that occurs every year from November to the end of the year, this means it's a bait and switch.

He wrote a letter to his Congressman about it, the text of which can be found here.

Like me, he was under the impression for the last five years that during Part D open enrollment the plans were not allowed to change prices. He was shocked during this last open enrollment to discover that two of the plans he was reviewing changed the full price of some of their drugs AFTER November 15. When he reported this to Medicare he was told that because my complaint was against CMS he had to complain to his Congressman.

Congressman Ed Pastor (D-AZ) confirmed that Congress did write into the MMA law of 2003 that CMS could not interfere with the pricing of drugs and companies could update their prices as often as every 14 days, including during open enrollment and thus Congress either deliberately or unwittingly stacked the deck in favor of the plans and drug companies. My friend, who was saving search results on his computer, discovered this by accident.

He says this is a bait and switch tactic that was resolved by an act of Congress as far back as 1946. How can a consumer properly evaluate and compare plans if the prices unbeknownst to him or her are changing during the process and they have no awareness that prices are changing?

This is either an outrageous hoax that Congress played on the American people who are on Medicare, or a frank admission that no members of Congress read the legislation they pass.

It makes no difference if you have a standalone Part D plan or you are a member of a Medicare Advantage plan. For the last five (5) years the insurance companies and the drug companies have been getting away with robbing the pocketbooks of senior.

Only Congress can correct this. You might want to write a letter to your Congressperson, reminding them that it's an election year and that seniors vote. And that this isn't much different than what the banks and credit card companies do with the small print in their mailers.