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Why are seniors wasting so much money on drug plans?

Is there such thing as being too careful when it comes to buying health insurance? According to a recent study, seniors on average spend $368 more than they need to on their Medicare prescription drug plans.

Only 5.2 percent of Medicare recipients chose the most economical Part D plan available.

According to the Health Affairs study, there are a few reasons for this.

1.) So many choices.

There are 1,736 prescription-drug plans available to Medicare beneficiaries under the Medicare's Part D benefit. That's about 50 plans per region; Florida has 35.

2.) Information isn't helping.

The study found that seniors failed to choose the most economical plan even after video tutorials, online materials, and printed information were made available. It isn't clear whether the information itself wasn't understandable or the seniors didn't trust it.

3. ) Seniors tend to overprotect themselves.

The authors found that some seniors looked past their medication needs to choose plans with generous features, especially low deductibles, and ended up with higher premiums.

Co-author Yuting Zhang is a University of Pittsburgh assistant professor. She says that beneficiaries who had physical or mental disorders tended to choose plans about the same way as those who were healthy. The study did show that seniors spent more the older they got.

Zhang thinks a solution to the overspending might be more government assistance in helping seniors pick their plans.

"If they are able to choose their plans, we could rely on a private market to drive down costs," she said.

But Julie Bennett, who is a community outreach specialist for a senior counseling service in Sacramento, says the problem lies in the number of variations in each Part D plan.

"It's complicated, and every individual has a different situation," she says.

She says each person and situation is unique and seniors need to be helped individually to ensure they're not overpaying.

Florida offers that kind of help free of charge through a volunteer counseling program called SHINE (Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders). Call 1-800-96ELDER or 1-800-963-5337.

--Sarah Pusateri is a reporter for Health News Florida, journalism for a healthy state, a service of WUSF Public Media.

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.