The Donut Hole (or Coverage Gap) is a term used to describe the third phase of your
Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage. If you reach the Donut Hole portion of your drug coverage, you receive a 75% discount on
all formulary drugs.
You will enter your 2024 Medicare Part D prescription drug plan's Donut Hole if the retail value of your formulary drug purchases
exceeds your plan's Initial Coverage Limit (ICL)
. Your Medicare drug plan's
Initial Coverage Limit can (and usually will) change every year and in 2024, the standard
Initial Coverage Limit
(used by most Medicare Part D plans) will increase to
So, if you are using a formulary drug with a retail cost of
$300, although you may only pay a $47 copay for your medication, the $300 retail drug value is what counts
toward meeting your plan's $5,030 Initial Coverage Limit and entering the 2024 Donut Hole.
Question: But didn't the Donut Hole close in 2020?
. We say that the Donut Hole is "closed"
since you receive a 75%
discount on all formulary drugs - and if your Medicare Part D plan follows the
standard Medicare Part D
prescription drug plan design, you will pay 25% coinsurance in the
Initial Coverage phase for all formulary drugs and then, if you enter the Donut Hole, you will
continue to pay the same 25% coinsurance for all formulary drugs - and since there is no
change in coverage between being your
Initial Coverage phase and Coverage Gap - the Donut Hole appears to be
closed (see the diagram below).
But note . . .
Only few, if any stand-alone Medicare Part D plans follow the standard plan design with a
fixed 25% coinsurance for all formulary drug tiers. The vast majority, if not all
2024 Medicare Part D plans have a mix of fixed copays ($47 for a Tier 3 drug),
combined with coinsurance for more expensive formulary tiers
(for example, you pay 35% of retail prices for Tier 5 specialty drugs) -
and as noted in more detail below, if you enter the Donut Hole - it is possible that
the cost of your formulary medications can
increase, decrease, or stay the same
You can click on our FAQ "Did the Coverage Gap or Donut Hole just close up and go away?
" to read more.
Question: Will I enter the 2024 Donut Hole?
If the retail value of your formulary drug purchases is over $420
per month, you will enter the Donut Hole sometime in 2024 -- and the higher your
monthly retail drug costs are above $420, the sooner you will enter the Donut Hole.
You can read more in our article: Will I enter the 2024 Medicare Part D Donut Hole and when?
Question: If I enter the Donut Hole, will I always pay less for my drugs now that the Donut Hole
As noted above, if you enter the Coverage Gap, you may pay the same, more, or less for your
formulary drugs. Your additional drug costs or savings
on drugs in the Donut Hole depends on your Medicare Part D plan’s cost-sharing
(what you are paying before entering the Donut Hole) and your plan's negotiated retail drug cost for each of your medications.
For example, if your Tier 3 brand-name medication has a negotiated retail cost of $300
and your Medicare Part D plan has a $47 copay for this drug during your Initial Coverage phase,
you will pay more for your medication once you enter the Donut Hole,
even with the Donut Hole discount -- you would pay $75 in the Donut Hole ($300 x 25%) vs. $47 in the Initial Coverage phase.
You can click here to see other examples
of how your drug costs can change with the Donut Hole discount.
Question: Will I exit the Donut Hole and enter Catastrophic Coverage?
If your average monthly retail drug costs are over $1,038
you will probably
exit the Donut Hole and enter Catastrophic Coverage during 2024.
You leave the 2024 Donut Hole after your total out-of-pocket costs
your plan's 2024 TrOOP limit of $8,000 and enter the Catastrophic Coverage
portion of your drug plan. Medicare estimates you will
purchase formulary drugs with a retail value of over $12,447.11 before exiting the Donut Hole.
But there is some good news
, starting in 2024, if you enter the
Catastrophic Coverage phase, your cost-sharing will be $0 for all
formulary drugs (you can see more details below).
Important Fact: 2024 is the last year that the Donut Hole will exist
one of the provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022
is the elimination of the Coverage Gap (Donut Hole). Medicare Part D beneficiaries will stay in the Initial Coverage phase
until they reach the maximum cap on out-of-pocket spending for Part D formulary drugs - RxMOOP
- which is set at $2,000 for 2025. After reaching RxMOOP Medicare Part
D beneficiaries will have a $0 copay for all formulary drugs.
So no matter what happens during 2024, the annual Donut Hole will end on December 31, 2024 for ever. On January 1, 2025, your Medicare Part D drug coverage starts
over from the beginning, however, as mentioned above, once your out-of-pocket spending reaching $2,000, you will pay nothing for your formulary drug purchases through the end of 2025. You can read the next sections below for more
information about entering and exiting the 2024 Donut Hole.
Important Fact: There is no Donut Hole for people eligible for Extra Help
If you are eligible for the Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidy (LIS) or Extra Help program,
you will not have a Donut Hole phase in your coverage. If you are eligible for your
state's Medicaid program, you will be automatically eligible for Extra Help.
Question: What happens if you enter the Donut Hole?
If you enter the Donut Hole, you will receive a 75% discount on all generic and brand-name
formulary drugs that you purchase. However, the credit you receive toward
exiting the Donut Hole (meeting your TrOOP limit) varies between
generic and brand-name drugs.
Generic drugs purchased in the Donut Hole.
When you purchase
generic medications in the 2024 Coverage Gap, you pay 25%
of retail cost and you get TrOOP credit for only the 25% you spend.
You do not get TrOOP credit for the 75% paid by your Medicare Part D plan.
As an example, if you reach the 2024 Donut Hole, and your generic
medication has a retail cost of $100, you will pay $25 and the $25 that you spend counts
toward your out-of-pocket spending limit or TrOOP.
Brand-name formulary drugs purchased in the Donut Hole.
purchase brand-name drugs in the 2024 Coverage Gap, you pay 25%
and you get TrOOP credit for 95% -- the 25% you spend
plus the 70% discount paid by the brand-name drug manufacturer.
(You do not get TrOOP credit for the 5% of the discount paid by your Medicare Part D plan.)
As an example, if you reach the 2024
Donut Hole and purchase a brand-name medication with a retail cost of
$100, you will pay $25 for the medication, and receive $95 credit toward
meeting your 2024 out-of-pocket spending limit.
Question: How did the Donut Hole discount change over time?
From 2006 through 2010 (back in the early days of Medicare Part D),
you were 100% responsible for the cost of your prescription drugs if you reached your Medicare Part D plan's Coverage Gap -
unless your Medicare Part D plan provided additional coverage while in the Donut Hole a "gap" or pause in coverage. Then in 2011, the
Donut Hole discount was started with Medicare Part D prescription drug plans and the
brand-name pharmaceutical drug manufacturers sharing a portion of your
Donut Hole medication expenses.
Here is a chart showing how the brand-name Donut Hole discount changed over the years
(using an example of a brand drug with a $100 retail price) and how your cost (and TrOOP credit) has changed.
How the Donut Hole fits into your Medicare Part D coverage
As a reminder, your Medicare Part D plan coverage has four separate parts or phases
. However, if your Medicare Part D plan has a $0 initial deductible, you will skip the first or Deductible phase and begin coverage directly in the Initial Coverage phase.
Part 1 of your drug coverage
The Initial Deductible Phase
The Initial Deductible can change each year.
the standard Initial Deductible is $545 ($505 in 2023).
If your Medicare Part D plan has an
you will usually pay 100% for your medications and the amount you pay will count toward the
Donut Hole. If your plan has a $0 deductible, then you skip over the Initial Deductible phase
and go directly to the Initial Coverage phase (see below).
Keep in mind, many Medicare Part D prescription drug plans with an Initial Deductible cover some lower-costing generics during the Initial Deductible.
In other words, some plans will note something like "Tier 1 and Tier 2 drugs excluded from
your deductible" and you will have immediate coverage of these low-costing
Tier 1 and Tier 2 drugs
before meeting your deductible.
If you have a plan that excludes certain formulary drugs from the deductible then your
other drug purchases will still count toward the deductible
(for example, Tier 3, 4, and 5 drugs).
But, no matter whether you, or your plan, pays for your medications during the Initial Deductible phase,
the retail value of your medications is what counts toward your Initial Coverage Limit (see next section)
and determines when you enter into the Donut Hole or Coverage Gap.
Part 2 of your drug coverage
The Initial Coverage Phase
After the Initial Deductible (if any), you will be in your plan's
Initial Coverage phase
where your Medicare Part D plan covers a portion of your prescription costs and you pay
some cost-sharing (copayment or coinsurance). You will leave your Initial Coverage phase
and enter the Donut Hole or Coverage Gap when your retail medication costs reach your plan's Initial Coverage Limit (ICL)
-- not just the amount you paid for your drugs, but rather the retail value of the medications
you purchased counts toward the initial coverage limit. For example, if you buy a formulary drug with a retail value of
$100 for a $30 copayment, the $100 retail value counts toward your
Initial Coverage Limit.
The Initial Coverage Limit
can change each year. In 2024
the Initial Coverage Limit or Donut Hole entry point is when your retail drug costs reach $5,030 ($4,660 in 2023).
If the retail cost of your medication(s) is
you will enter the 2024 Donut Hole
A note on using high-cost medications.
If you use a single medication with a retail cost of over $5,030
, you will enter
the Donut Hole with your first purchase. If you use an expensive medication on an
infrequent basis, you may find that
one large drug purchase
(or multiple drug purchases in a single month) can actually move you from the Initial Coverage
phase (or Initial Deductible) into the Donut Hole, so the only way to know exactly when you
will enter or leave the doughnut hole is by watching your monthly Medicare Part D plan's
Explanation of Benefits statement
carefully (you receive this printed document in the mail) or you can contact your Medicare
Part D plan and ask the Member Services representative where you are relative to the plan's
Part 3 of your drug coverage
The Coverage Gap or Donut Hole
You will leave the Initial Coverage phase
and enter the Donut Hole when your total retail drug cost (what you spent plus what your Medicare drug plan spent) exceeds the Initial Coverage Limit
As mentioned, the Coverage Gap this is the portion of your Medicare Part D coverage where you
traditionally paid a larger percentage of the retail drug cost. From 2006 through 2010,
you were responsible for 100% of your drug costs, unless your Medicare plan included some
Donut Hole coverage. From 2011 to 2020, Medicare
beneficiaries received an annually increasing discount on Medicare Part D drug
purchases while in the Donut Hole.
In 2020, the Donut Hole “closed”
and you now receive a 75% discount on
all formulary drugs purchased while in the donut hole. You can
click here to see how the Donut Hole discount has increased
over the years.
Part 4 of your drug coverage
The Catastrophic Coverage Phase
You will stay in the Coverage Gap or Donut Hole phase until your total drug spending or true out-of-pocket costs
(TrOOP) reaches a certain level. The
TrOOP threshold in 2024 is $8,000
So, if you have spent $8,000 on Medicare Part D drugs (not including monthly Medicare plan premiums),
you will exit the Donut Hole and enter the Catastrophic Coverage phase.
Starting in 2024, you pay $0 for all formulary medications
purchased once you enter the Catastrophic Coverage portion of your Medicare
Part D coverage. This is one of the provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022
-- the elimination of beneficiary cost-sharing in the Catastrophic Coverage phase -- in essence "eliminating" the Catastrophic Coverage phase for Medicare beneficiaries.
More on TrOOP . . .
TrOOP is the total of what you pay out-of-pocket:
- during the Initial Deductible (if you have one) plus
- what you personally pay in the Initial Coverage phase, before the Donut Hole,
- what you pay in the Donut Hole (plus you get credit for the
70% brand-name discount paid by the drug manufacturer in the Donut Hole - for instance,
if in the Donut Hole you buy a brand-name drug with a $100 retail value,
you pay the $25 discounted price, but actually get credit for $95 toward meeting
your TrOOP limit).
Your TrOOP limit changes every year -- the TrOOP threshold is $8,000 in 2024 ($7,400 in 2023).
A note on TrOOP vs. Retail Drug Cost
Without considering your Donut Hole discount, your 2024 TrOOP
(true or total out-of-pocket costs) should equate to about $11,477 in retail drug costs.
But with the Donut Hole discount, Medicare estimates that your retail drug cost should
be around $12,447.11 before exiting the 2024 Donut Hole. This estimate is based on
historic brand-name and generic drug purchases while in the Donut Hole.
If your monthly retail drug costs are somewhere
, you probably will spend your
way through the 2024 Donut Hole and
enter your Medicare Part D plan’s
2024 Catastrophic Coverage phase
No matter where you are at the end of the plan year,
your Medicare Part D plan coverage ends on December 31st and the whole process begins
again on January 1st of the next year.
Summary of what you pay for drugs during your Medicare Part D plan coverage
Here is a chart of how example formulary drug purchases are calculated throughout your
2024 Medicare Part D plan (using the CMS defined standard benefit Medicare Part D plan as a guide).
When you purchase a formulary medication
with a $100 retail cost in 2024
||Medicare Plan Pays
||Pharma Mfgr Pays
||Amount toward your TrOOP
|Initial Coverage phase*
|Coverage Gap - brand-name**
|Coverage Gap - generic***
|Catastrophic Coverage (brand drug)****
|Catastrophic Coverage (generic drug)****
* 25% coinsurance
** 75% Brand-name discount
*** 75% Generic discount
Help with planning your 2024 out-of-pocket drug costs
**** In 2024
the Catastrophic Coverage phase will still exist, but plan members
will not have any out-of-pocket costs for formulary drugs purchases after reaching
the plan's $8,000 total out-of-pocket threshold (TrOOP
). (80% paid by Medicare, 20% paid by Medicare plan, and 0% by plan member)
To help you visualize the phases of your Medicare Part D prescription drug plan coverage and estimate your out-of-pocket costs,
we have our
online illustrating the changes in your monthly estimated costs based
on the established 2024 standard Medicare Part D plan limits and cost-sharing mentioned above.
We also have several examples online to help you get started with our 2024 PDP-Planner tool.
click here for an example
of a Medicare beneficiary with relatively high monthly prescription
drug costs of $800 per month
that result in annual out-of-pocket costs
estimated to be $2,809
- you can then change the monthly drug cost to reflect your costs to estimate your 2024 out-of-pocket cost.