PAWTUCKET - When Dorothy Plante had spent a certain amount last year for prescription drugs, her prescription drug insurance coverage suddenly stopped.
In response, she stopped taking two prescriptions for a time - "the two most expensive ones," she said - until her coverage kicked in again.
Plante, 87, of Pawtucket, a retired hairdresser, is one of millions of people nationwide who have fallen into the "doughnut hole" - a gap in the coverage offered by many prescription drug plans sanctioned by the federal Medicare health insurance program.
But the gap is gradually closing. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday began mailing checks for $250 apiece to people who encounter the coverage gap this year.
The "rebate" checks are intended to help them pay for prescriptions when their insurance plans temporarily stop coverage, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said on Monday.
The payments represent "the beginning of the beginning of the end" of the doughnut hole, Whitehouse said in a visit to the Leon A. Mathieu Senior Center. More measures will come to eliminate the coverage gap altogether, he said.