At some time between October 15 and December 1, mom and I have to decide whether she’ll continue with the Medicare Part D policy she has now or switch to a new one. Not our favorite activity!

This year, however, I’ve found a secret weapon — an independent pharmacy. “Medicare Part D is complicated and people need help,” pharmacist Chip Smith told me last week. “Places like CVS can only talk to customers about their own plans, but we’re able and willing to talk about all the plans.” Smith is a pharmacist at Triangle Pharmacy, a Durham, NC-based independent pharmacy. He recently purchased two computer programs — PrescribeWellness and IMedicare — designed to help people find a Medicare Part D plan.

Once he input my mom’s prescription list, the software showed all the plans available in her area that cover the drugs she takes, along with premiums and deductibles. What’s different about these programs is the level of detail they provide. We saw how much she’ll spend each month, exactly when she’ll enter the “donut hole,” how much she’ll spend each month she’s in the hole, when she’ll leave it, and how much she’ll pay then.

So, find an independent pharmacy in your loved one’s area by visiting Ask if they have either program (or an equivalent) and when they can meet with you and/or your loved one to look at Part D plans.