The Sneaky Medicare Part D Donut Hole Could Cost You over $685 (2023)

The Part D donut hole is a gap in Medicare drug coverage that catches many seniors off guard. This post will explain this donut hole in detail, arming you with all the info you need to save money and stay healthy.
The Sneaky Medicare Part D Donut Hole Could Cost You over $685 (2023)
Written by
Published on
March 27, 2023
Why you can trust 
Braden is in training to become a licensed health and life insurance broker. He's passionate about helping seniors (60+) organize their wealth gain peace of mind through insurance and finance.

Seniors across the United States are unaware of a costly threat lurking in their Medicare plans: the Part D Donut Hole. This gap in prescription drug coverage could cost seniors thousands of dollars each year if they're not careful, leaving them struggling to afford necessary medications.

Many Americans who have opted into Medicare don’t even realize there is a ‘donut hole,” or gap, in their drug coverage. To prevent you from making the mistake so many others have - let's figure out this tricky donut hole together and get on top of your healthcare costs!

In today's blog post we'll look at what the Part D donut hole is, when it affects you and how to know if it applies to you. So grab yourself a glass of milk and let's dive into the donut!

Here's what we will cover, click on a topic to jump to it:


What is the Medicare Part D donut hole?

If you're enrolled in Medicare Part D, then you've likely heard of the donut hole - that pesky gap in coverage that can lead to a significant spike in your out-of-pocket expenses. But what exactly is the donut hole, and how does it work?

Essentially, the donut hole is a coverage gap that kicks in once you and your insurer have spent a certain amount on prescription drug costs. Once you hit that limit, you're responsible for a larger share of your medication costs until you reach another threshold, at which point your insurer will start to cover expenses once again. Understanding the nuances of the donut hole can be tricky, but with the right knowledge and preparation, you can minimize your risk and keep your healthcare costs under control.

The 4 phases of Part D coverage

Part D coverage can be illustrated in 4 phases. The donut hole is one specific phase, so let's break them down in chronological order:

1 - Deductible Stage

When you enroll in a Part D plan, some require an annual deductible before your coverage begins. The amount of the deduction can differ between plans and could even be none at all. As of 2023, however, no Part D plan is allowed to have a deductible higher than $505; once this threshold has been crossed, your preliminary insurance kicks in.

2 - Initial Coverage Stage

When it's time to pay, your copayments and coinsurance kick in. Your portion of the cost for a medication will be determined by what your Part D plan covers; if you had a $200 prescription with 25% coinsurance, that would mean only having to fork out $50 while the plan pays for the remaining balance - an easy $150!

In 2023, once the amount you and your drug plan pay for prescription drugs accumulates to a certain limit - $4,660 in this case - you will enter into the Part D coverage gap.

Stage 3 - Medicare Coverage Gap (aka "the Donut Hole")

Most Medicare drug plans have what's referred to as a Coverage Gap or the "donut hole." For many, this signifies that their plan has restrictions on how much of their prescription drugs will be covered. Luckily, not everyone hits this gap and those who receive Extra Help with Part D costs don't face these limitations.

While in the coverage gap, you won't pay more than 25% of covered Part D prescription drug costs for both brand-name and generic drugs. This amount is taken into account when determining your progress towards the Catastrophic Coverage stage.

What counts toward the Coverage Gap:

  • Your yearly deductible, coinsurance and copayments
  • The discount you get on brand-name drugs in the Coverage Gap
  • What you pay in the Coverage Gap

What doesn’t count toward the Coverage Gap:

  • Your drug plan premium
  • Pharmacy dispensing fees
  • What you pay for drugs that aren’t covered by your particular plan

Stage 4 - Catastrophic Coverage Stage

In this last phase of Part D plan coverage, you’ll only pay a small coinsurance amount or copayment for covered drugs for the rest of the year.

Donut hole thresholds in 2023 (actual numbers)

Much like prior years, in 2023 the point of entrance and exit for the "donut hole" increased. To put it simply, the initial coverage limit rose to $4,660 while hitting that benchmark of exiting donut hole and entering catastrophic coverage level shifted up to $7,400. We'll get into more detail further down so keep reading!

The 2023 Medicare Part D Donut hole threshold numbers
The 2023 Donut hole threshold numbers

A donut hole example w/ Mrs. Johnson

Suppose Mrs. Johnson has reached her donut hole, meaning she has spent $4,660 out-of-pocket. She goes to her pharmacy to fill a prescription for a covered brand-name drug. The price for the drug is $100, and there's a $3 dispensing fee, making the total price $103.

Mrs. Johnson pays 25% of the total cost ($103 x .25 = $25.75).

The amount Mrs. Anderson pays ($25.75) plus the manufacturer discount payment of $70 ($100 x .70 = $70) counts as out-of-pocket spending.

So, $95.75 counts as out-of-pocket spending and helps Mrs. Anderson get out of the coverage gap. The remaining $7.25 (5% of the drug cost and 75% of the dispensing fee) paid by the drug plan, doesn't count toward Mrs. Anderson's out-of-pocket spending.

Medicare Part D Donut hole example with numbers
Mrs. Johnson’s out-of-pocket costs in donut hole example

Common misconceptions about the donut hole

It's time to set the record straight on one of the most misunderstood elements of Medicare: the donut hole. Despite its name, the donut hole is not a gaping void in your prescription drug coverage. Rather, it refers to a temporary gap in coverage that only affects beneficiaries with particularly high drug costs. It's important to understand that the donut hole isn't a one-size-fits-all phenomenon, with different rules and thresholds depending on your plan. So next time you hear someone fretting about the donut hole, leave them impressed with your confident and charismatic knowledge of the facts.

Why does the donut hole exist?

The government set a Medicare Part D "donut hole" as a way to control the rising costs of prescription drugs. The idea was that individuals would be more cautious about their prescription drug spending if they had to pay 100% of the retail cost of their drugs during the coverage gap. However, the "donut hole" has been gradually closing under the Affordable Care Act, meaning the percentage for which you are responsible decreases over time.

In 2020, the donut hole was officially closed, which means you now only have to cover 25% of the retail price of drugs while inside the "donut hole". The other 75% is covered by the manufacturer (70%) and your plan provider (5%).

closing the Medicare Part D donut hole
Representation of the “closing” donut hole since it’s inception

How you can avoid falling into the donut hole trap

The donut hole trap can be a frustrating reality for those on Medicare prescription drug plans. However, with a little bit of knowledge and planning, you can avoid falling into this predicament. One way to do this is by carefully reviewing your coverage and selecting a plan that aligns with your medication needs. Additionally, utilizing generic drug options and taking advantage of drug manufacturer discounts can also help cut back on costs and potentially keep you from entering the "donut hole". By staying informed and proactive about your healthcare expenditures, you can confidently avoid getting caught in the donut hole trap.


Ways to cut your prescription drug costs and stay out of the donut hole

Prescription drugs can often feel like a double-edged sword: they can help you stay healthy, but they can also cost a small fortune. If you're looking for ways to cut those costs and stay out of the infamous "donut hole," you're in the right place. By taking some proactive measures, you can make sure that you're not sacrificing your financial stability for your physical health. From finding cheaper alternatives to prescription drugs to exploring generic options, there are many ways to reduce the burden of prescription drug costs. And with a little research and determination, you can confidently navigate the healthcare landscape and keep your expenses under control.

Helpful resources for navigating the Part D donut hole

Navigating the Part D donut hole can be daunting, but there are plenty of resources available to help make the process easier. From government websites to community organizations, there are countless tools and programs designed specifically to assist seniors with understanding and managing their Part D coverage. With the right guidance, you'll be able to confidently navigate the donut hole and make the most out of your prescription drug benefits. Don't let confusion and frustration hold you back - trust in the many helpful resources available and take control of your healthcare journey today.

How to know if you are in the Donut hole

Each month, your Part D company will send you a statement or Explanation of Benefits (EOB) that outlines how much money has already been spent on prescribed medications and what amount is left before entering the coverage gap. As soon as you have crossed this threshold, they will start to track the spending in the gap with regular notices until it reaches catastrophic coverage - calculating just how many dollars are remaining at all times.

Most EOBs will look slightly different, but here is an example of one so you can be on the lookout:

Explanation of Benefits (EOB) statement example Medicare
Explanation of Benefits (EOB) statement example

Already in the donut hole and need help getting out?

So, you've fallen into the donut hole, huh? Don't worry, my friend, you're not alone. It can happen to the best of us. But the good news is that there's plenty you can do to climb your way out. First things first, check if you're eligible for any assistance programs. This could include help with drug costs. If you're still struggling to afford your prescription drugs, talk to your doctor about switching to cheaper alternatives or ask about discount programs. And finally, don't forget to shop around for the best prices at different pharmacies. With a little bit of effort and some savvy maneuvering, you'll be out of that donut hole in no time.

If you believe that you have arrived at the coverage gap and don't receive any discount for your brand-name prescription, carefully examine your subsequent "Explanation of Benefits" (EOB). In case there is no reduction mentioned on the EOB statement, make sure to contact your drug plan in order to double-check whether all information about prescriptions are accurate. Should it happen that your drug plan does not agree with you being owed a discount, do not hesitate to file an appeal immediately!

Other fees associated with Part D of Medicare

Medicare Part D plans can have various fees associated with them, and it is essential to understand these costs to make informed decisions when choosing a plan.

One cost associated with Medicare Part D is a monthly premium. This is a fee that individuals pay to maintain their coverage. The amount of this fee can vary depending on the specific plan an individual chooses. It is important to note that some Medicare Part D plans may have a $0 monthly premium, but they may have higher copayments or coinsurance for prescription drugs.

Another cost associated with Medicare Part D is an annual deductible. This is an amount that individuals must pay out-of-pocket before their plan begins to cover the cost of prescription drugs. Not all Medicare Part D plans have a deductible, but those that do can have varying amounts. In 2021, the maximum deductible amount for Medicare Part D plans is $445.

In addition to monthly premiums and deductibles, some Medicare Part D plans may have copayments or coinsurance. Copayments are a fixed amount that individuals pay for a prescription drug, while coinsurance is a percentage of the total cost of the drug. These costs can vary depending on the specific plan and the drug being prescribed.

It is important to note that some Medicare Part D plans may offer additional coverage during the coverage gap or may not have a gap at all. It is essential to review and compare Medicare drug plans to determine which plan will best meet an individual's needs and budget.

Understanding the fees associated with Medicare Part D plans can help individuals make informed decisions when choosing a plan and prepare for potential out-of-pocket costs.

When to enroll in a Part D plan

Generally speaking, the best time to enroll in a Part D plan is during your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) which begins three months before you turn 65 and lasts until three months after your 65th birthday. Use the calculator below to find your IEP 👇


During this initial period, you can join any available Medicare prescription drug plans without incurring late enrollment penalties or other fees. However, if you don’t sign up at this time, there are still other opportunities throughout the year where you may be able to enroll in a Part D plan with no additional costs or fees. These include Special Enrollment Periods (SEPs), which allow people who have lost their employer-sponsored coverage or moved out of their current service area to apply for new coverage outside of the IEP window. It's important to understand these different enrollment periods so that you can make sure that you get the most appropriate coverage for your health needs.

Donut worry about a thing

A deeper understanding of the Part D donut hole can bring you peace of mind - especially if you already hit the donut hole and are still trying to recover. While the Part D donut hole was created to improve the health of Medicare as a whole (pun intended) and keep you covered long-term, it can feel like a burden while you are in it.

However, with proper planning, you can manage your health costs and stay out of the hole for good. Now that you know so much about the donut hole and have seen plenty of strategies that could help keep you out of it, there's no time like the present to make sure your healthcare expenses are under control. So put down the donut now, and you'll thank yourself later!

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