How Are Drugs Covered by Medicare?

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As confusing as it sounds, some medications may be covered not only under Medicare Part D but also under Part A or Part B. Sometimes an identical drug may be covered by all three but charged under one or another according to different circumstances. That’s because certain drugs were covered under A or B before D came into existence, and that practice continued. Here’s the general rule of thumb:

  • Part A covers drugs administered when you’re a patient in the hospital or a skilled nursing facility.

  • Part B covers drugs administered in a doctor’s office (such as injected chemotherapy drugs), hospital outpatient departments, and, in some circumstances, by a hospice or home health care professional.

  • Part D covers outpatient drugs that you administer to yourself, a caregiver administers to you at your home, or you receive if you live in a nursing home. (These drugs are usually pills but also include self-injected insulin for diabetes, for example.)

These general rules are more complicated in some situations. For example, if your organ transplant was covered by Medicare, the immunosuppressant drugs you need afterward are covered by Part B. But if your transplant surgery wasn’t covered by Medicare (perhaps because you had it before joining the program), the drugs are covered under Part D.

Part D doesn’t pay for drugs covered by Parts A or B. So if any of your meds are in question, your Part D plan may require information from you and your doctor — usually concerning any related medical treatment, such as surgery — before covering them.

For this reason, Part D plans often place a prior authorization restriction on such drugs to determine whether Part A, B, or D should cover them. Your doctor may be able to settle this matter over the phone or may help you file a speedy exception request. Either way, your doctor needs to explain why a prior authorization shouldn’t apply in this case.

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