Dems crow over Medicare donut hole’s fillup

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.

Pete Stark“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.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Elwood

    I am so sick of George Miller (36 year incumbent) and Pete Stark (38 year incumbent) I could puke.

    Kudos to Lynn Woolsey for saying 20 years is enough and it’s not necessary to die in office as she announced her retirement.

  • John W

    Think of it this way. If George (apparently my new Congressman under redistricting) and Pete stay in office until they die, we don’t have to pay them pensions. And we’d have to pay somebody to fill the Congressional seat in any event.

  • Publius

    Where does the dough to fill the hole come from? Last time I checked dough cost $. George and Pete are doing what they have done for over 30 years; handing out free goodies. Ofcourse the seniors are going to dig it. Today, under a mountain of debt, George and Pete cannot stop spending. They are addicted to it. They need it to survive. The boomers inherited the earth from the greatest generation. Under the boomer rule this country has effectively lost all that was won in WWII, and it is men like George and Pete that are responsible. The Greatest generation survived the depression, the Raw Deal, and the Great War, they left their children a stronger and safer America. We have a duty and an obligation to take care of them as they enter thier 80’s. The boomers are like a rich trust fund baby that pissed away daddy’s money, and left only promises and shattered dreams behind for the next generation to inherit.

  • John W

    Re: #3

    If I’m not mistaken, the money to fill the donut hole comes mainly from negotiating discounts with the drug companies. And let’s not forget who established the unfunded prescription drug program in the first place. Hint: It wasn’t George and Pete.

    All you say about The Greatest Generation is true, except they are approaching their 90’s, not entering their 80’s. In terms of entitlement programs, they have been treated very well, and deservedly so: Vets got the original GI Bill, with very generous benefits for college and home purchases. They paid next to nothing into either Social Security or Medicare but got the full benefits. As for Boomers (I’m a first wave circa 1946 Boomer) — They paid the taxes that paid for SS & Medicare for their parents. Many are still paying for long-term care for their parents while also trying to put their kids through college. They served during the Vietnam War and first Gulf War. Running up the national debt (stealing from future generations) did not start with the Boomers in control. It would be unfair to the next generation and beyond if we let Medicare suck up the entire non-defense federal budget, but that’s not going to happen.

  • Publius

    An 18 year old male that enlisted into the Army in 1944 would be 84 years old today.

    There are approximately 78 million Baby Boomers. Over the past 35 years the Boomers have paid into the system as required, there is no argument there. The problem is that as the 78 million people retire and start tapping into the big 3 entitlement programs (Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security), the system is under-funded by approximately $59 trillion. The problem facing our Nation is bi-partisan, but our local reps Stark and Miller, who have been in office over 30 years have done absolutely nothing to address this problem. The Boomer generation as a whole has done nothing. We as a nation have known about this problem for over 20 years! Politically afraid to touch the holy grail of the Big 3 the government mostly run by boomers the past 20 years has failed.

    To add insult to injury the Boomer generation has also shackled future generations with a state and federal pension system that is unsustainable. I would like to believe that the problem will be fixed, but have little faith that the self entitled, trust fund baby boomer generation that has burried it’s head in the sand the past 20 years can summon up the courage required to to tackle this challenge. Now is the time to live up to thier predecessors and become the next Greatest Generation. As a member of generation X I will except any type of reform to give my chidren a better America.

  • John W


    It’s not important, but your original comment was “as they enter their 80’s.” Even somebody who entered service at 17 just before V-J Day (hardly typical) is or would be 83, not entering their 80’s. For the typical WWII vet, think George Herbert Walker Bush, Bob Dole, Daniel Inoyue, and Ted Stevens, not to mention the many surviving Pearl Harbor and Normandy vets in Rossmoor and around the Bay Area.

    You didn’t mention what generation you belong to. But, if I knew, I’m sure I could come up with a bunch of reasons as to why that generation is responsible for all that ails us. Yes, there are 78 million of us Boomers. The Greatest Generation, not their offspring, is responsible for those statistics. Just our very existence creates the problems you mention, but our very existence also fueled decades of economic growth. Boomers did not create the entitlement programs. This Medicare-age Boomer supports the Coburn/Lieberman plan for Medicare. Nor did the Boomers create the public employee pension problem you mentioned. Last I looked, Jerry Brown and Gray Davis are not Boomers (born 1946-84). Those public employees resisting changes to public pensions today are mostly of the post-Boomer generation. George Miller and Pete Stark aren’t Boomers either.

    We’ve got problems to solve, but don’t make it a generational war thing.

  • For Liberty

    The acceptance of federal aid ultimately becomes an invariable surrender of a degree of freedom and/or control.

  • John W

    Re: #7

    Apparently Michele Bachmann and her husband didn’t think that way while taking those farm subsidies.

  • For Liberty

    Re: #8

    Thanks for bringing up another example (farm subsidies) on how the power of government is used for legalized plunder. Something that Miller and Stark are perfectly okay with.

  • Tom Benigno

    Go to your nearest ASCS office and see who gets the subsidies, it will shock you.

  • Elwood

    @ Tom

    American Sprint Car Series?