Open enrollment for your prescription drug plan under Medicare Part D ends today. Over 1,800 private insurance plans to choose from, but they all cost too much, and the costs keep climbing.

Just before House Members were scheduled to vote on a new Medicare bill in January 2007, a Families USA report found that Medicare pays 58% more than Veterans Affairs for the same drugs. Consumers Union, in February 2007 reported frequent price increases among five commonly prescribed drugs in five U.S. zip codes. Over a quarter of the plans increased costs for the selected drugs by 5% or more in 2006 and 95% of all plans increased their costs in a one-month period from January to February in 2007. USA Today reported our findings along with criticism from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. Leslie Norwalk, acting CMS administrator, wrote:

Approximately 90% of Part D beneficiaries pay co-pays that do not fluctuate during the year. These consumers are generally shielded from any price changes.

You should note that Norwalk mentions co-pays, not prescription drug costs. And many plans reduce monthly premiums while still increasing the overall annual costs. A joint CU-Medicare Rights Center report in October offered a taxpayer solution to Part D. Since taxpayers fund three-fourths of Medicare Part D costs, we all pay less if Medicare pays less.

Some lawmakers have been trying to let Medicare negotiate drug prices. Though the House version passed in January 2007, the Senate unfortunately blocked a vote on this in April. President Bush has vowed to veto both versions of the bill. With seniors gearing for the next election, when they will vote for those who show they care, Congress should make it their 2008 new year’s resolution to forcefully address the rollercoaster of high prescription drug costs.