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Medicare beneficiaries, welcome to the free market!

If you pay for a drug plan, under Medicare Part D, you’ll probably need to shop for a new one when open enrollment starts Oct. 15. Most of the best-selling drug plans are hiking their premium by double-digits.

Those companies are counting on seniors and the disabled to be “sticky,” to stick with their familiar plan rather than shop around. But there are better deals available with new lower-priced plans, said Corey Ford of Avalere Health LLC, which analyzes Medicare’s offerings each year. He said:

--Florida has 36 drug-only plans available statewide.

--The one with the lowest premium is a new one: United/AARP Medicare Rx Saver Plus. It’s $15 a month. That’s far less expensive than the market leader, United/AARP’s, which is over $40 a month.

--Last year’s lowest-price plan, Humana/Walmart, went up from $15 to $18.50 a month.

“United has made it their strategy to go after Walmart,” Ford said. “It will be interesting to see how well the (new) United plan competes.”

The original United/AARP Medicare Rx Preferred Plan is the most popular nationally, Ford said, with 4-million customers. He attributes that to the “trusted name of AARP.”

While they’re encouraging smart shopping, advisors say Medicare patients can’t really start until each plan releases its “formulary,” or list of covered drugs, in October. It wouldn’t make sense to decide on a plan with a lower premium if it doesn’t cover the drugs you need, they said.

Ford said Avalere sees companies keeping average premiums stable by using “preferred” pharmacy networks. Patients who use pharmacies outside the network will pay more, Ford said

Lottie Watts covers health and health policy for Health News Florida, now a part of WUSF Public Media. She also produces Florida Matters, WUSF's weekly public affairs show.