Senior Resources » Does Medicare Part D Cover Prescriptions for Clinical Trials?

Does Medicare Part D Cover Prescriptions for Clinical Trials?

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Dear Toni,


I turn 65 in September, am covered under my wife’s employer’s health insurance, and fighting liver cancer. I am participating in a clinical trial for a cancer medication that costs over $12,000 per month. I currently pay $0 for this medication which is curing my cancer.

I am concerned about what to do when I enroll in Medicare and if I will be in the “donut hole” since this is a clinical trial. I am not planning on enrolling in Medicare until my wife, Sarah, retires when she turns 65 in 2 years. Are clinical trial prescriptions covered under Medicare’s drug plans? What are my options?


Thanks, Lincoln

Medicare Part D
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Hello Lincoln,

What a smart decision you made to stay on Sarah’s employer benefits, because you both can enroll in Medicare Parts A and B when she retires in 2 years at 65. At that time, you will be eligible for a Special Enrollment Period (SEP), avoiding the “famous” Medicare Part B penalty, and be able to enroll in a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan. She will be enrolling in Medicare during her Initial Enrolling Period (IEP).

Exploring Medicare Part D and prescription drugs is one of the most important topics during a Toni Says Medicare consultation and Lincoln, you would go into the “famous Donut Hole” the second you order the prescription which costs over $12,000 per month if you were not in a clinical trial. 


In 2024, the donut hole begins once the actual cost of a person’s prescriptions reaches $5,030 and ends when one has spent $8,000 out of pocket; then the Catastrophic Coverage phase begins. As of January 1, 2024, the new Catastrophic Coverage cost is $0 out of pocket for the Medicare beneficiary and the Part D plan, with Medicare picking up all the costs. 

The Toni Says team will search the Part D prescription drug website for the Medicare Part D plan that best meets your Medicare and financial needs. Always enroll in the Medicare Part D plan which covers ALL your prescriptions, even though the most expensive prescription is covered by a clinical trial program and currently costs you nothing. There may be a time when that expensive prescription is no longer covered by the clinical trial, and without the right plan you will experience paying the donut-hole cost.

Whether your Part D prescription drug plan will pay for a medication used in a clinical trial depends on whether it is covered in the plan’s formulary or can be classified as a Tier 5 prescription that costs more. Then you will be leaving the donut hole and going into Medicare Part D’s Catastrophic coverage immediately.

Beware: If you are not enrolled in a Part D plan that covers the expensive clinical trial prescriptions, then you will pay 100% out of your pocket for the expensive prescriptions that are not covered when the clinical trial ends.  


For those enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan seeking clinical trials, page 34 of the 2024 Medicare & You handbook under Clinical Research Studies states, “If you’re in a Medicare Advantage plan, Original Medicare may cover some costs along with your Medicare Advantage plans. Contact your plan for details.” 

Enrolling in Medicare Part B when your wife retires is a good option. Both you and Sarah will qualify for a Medicare Supplement/Medigap Plan during your 6-month Medigap Open Enrollment Period without having to answer one health question. This period starts the month your Medicare Part B is effective.

Lincoln, take your time and research which Medicare options meet your needs.

Email your Medicare questions or call 832/519-8664 for a Medicare consultation. Toni’s book Medicare Survival Guide Advanced Edition and the new Confused about Medicare online course are available at

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Originally published May 23, 2024


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