The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported today that nearly half a million beneficiaries enrolled in the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit program have saved $260 million – an average savings of $545 per beneficiary – in the first five months of 2011 due to the “donut hole” fix included in the Affordable Care Act.
The healthcare reform bill enacted last year made it so that seniors and people with disabilities who hit the “donut hole” gap in prescription drug coverage now get a 50 percent discount on brand name prescription drugs.
Democrats were predictably elated by the new figures.
“As these new data show, the health reform law continues improving Medicare coverage for senior citizens and people with disabilities,” Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, said in a news release. “Republicans, however, want to eliminate these benefits by repealing the health reform law. What’s more, they have also voted multiple times this year to slash Medicare’s benefits by changing it from a guaranteed benefit into an underfunded voucher that would leave beneficiaries to the mercy of the private insurance industry. The Republicans’ reckless plan is dangerous to the health and financial future of America’s Medicare beneficiaries.”
Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, the House Education and the Workforce Committee’s ranking Democrat, noted nearly 55,000 California seniors saved a total of about $30 million since January.
“Seniors are catching a big break on the cost of their prescription drugs thanks to the health reforms that we passed last year. As more and more people reach the feared donut hole this year, we’ll see even more seniors directly benefiting from this law,” Miller said in his own news release. “The health reform law is having a positive impact on more and more people each and every day, seniors and non-seniors alike, but Republicans in Congress continue fight it. First they voted to repeal the health care law, which would wipe out these new drug cost savings. Then they voted to end Medicare and add thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses to people who enroll in Medicare. Their votes are bad for seniors and bad for the country.”
Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee’s latest hit piece on Democrats it deems vulnerable – in this area, Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton – says healthcare groups are voicing strong opposition to a section of the Affordable Care Act that would create “an unelected and unaccountable board of bureaucrats who would limit seniors’ access to care.”
The NRCC is talking about the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a panel of healthcare finance experts appointed by the president which in 2014 would start offering proposals to reduce Medicare’s rate of growth if the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ chief actuary determines it’s growing too fast. The board’s recommendations would take effect automatically unless Congress votes to stop them.
“Healthcare professionals are now joining with the American people in rejecting Jerry McNerney’s plan to empower unelected bureaucrats to endanger seniors’ access to Medicare benefits and make unsustainable cuts to the program,” NRCC Communications Director Paul Lindsay said in the news release. “It’s no wonder these 270 healthcare groups now stand in opposition to McNerney’s deeply flawed Medicare plan, which would interfere with their ability to provide a full range of services to seniors relying on the program.”
Actually, however, the law seems to explicitly forbid this. Sec. 3403\1899A(c)(2)(A)(ii), found on page 409, says the board’s “proposal shall not include any recommendation to ration health care, raise revenues or Medicare beneficiary premiums under section 1818, 1818A, or 1839, increase Medicare beneficiary costsharing (including deductibles, coinsurance, and copayments), or otherwise restrict benefits or modify eligibility criteria.”