February 8, 2012

Nearly 15,000 RI’ers Benefitted from “Doughnut Hole” Fix in 2011

RI Senator Whitehouse Helped Secure Prescription Drug Savings

Washington, DC – In 2010, as part of the health care reform law, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) helped lead the successful fight to end the Medicare Part D prescription drug “doughnut hole” which left thousands of Rhode Island seniors paying the total cost of their prescription drugs every year.  According to a recent report by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 14,822 Rhode Island seniors received prescription drug discounts as a result of the law in 2011, for a total savings of over $8.2 million.
“As I travel around the state, I’ve heard countless stories about Rhode Islanders affected by the dreaded Medicare Part D doughnut hole,” Whitehouse said. “Far too many seniors are forced to choose between taking their medication and putting food on the table or paying their bills. I’m pleased that so many Rhode Islanders received prescription drug discounts as a result of closing the doughnut hole, and I’m going to continue to fight to lower drug prices.”
The doughnut hole exposes seniors to the full cost of prescription drugs after their yearly drug expenses exceed $2,930. Drug coverage doesn’t resume until total drug spending hits $6,657 for the year – a high threshold for seniors on low, fixed incomes. The Affordable Care Act addresses this problem by closing the doughnut hole in phases over a ten-year period. In 2010, all Medicare beneficiaries who were affected by the doughnut hole received a one-time payment of $250 to help offset the cost of their prescription drugs. Last year and this year, patients receive a 50 percent discount on all brand name drugs purchased while they are in the doughnut hole.
On average, Rhode Island seniors who fell into the doughnut hole in 2011 saved $554 each.
“AARP worked hard at the national level to provide relief to those who fell into the ‘doughnut hole,’ and for good reason,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “For many, lowering the cost of prescriptions kept them from having to choose between paying for medicines, utility bills, food and other essentials. We applaud the efforts by Senator Whitehouse and lawmakers who supported this effort to provide for older Americans. AARP also is encouraging Congress to pass important legislation that would allow Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription prices, which could save money for Medicare and as well as its beneficiaries.”
Whitehouse also supports legislation to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. Current law prevents Medicare from negotiating drug prices, even though it could produce substantial savings. The Veterans’ Administration has long been negotiating prices for their beneficiaries and, according to a study by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, pays an average of 48 percent less for the top 10 prescription drugs than Medicare. The same study estimated that allowing Medicare to negotiate these prices could save up to $24 billion annually.

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