August 15, 2011

Thousands of RI Seniors Benefitting from “Doughnut Hole” Fix

RI Senator Whitehouse Helped Secure Prescription Drug Savings

Providence, RI – Last year, 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 leaves thousands of Rhode Island seniors without prescription drug coverage every year.  Now, according to new data released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, more than 3,000 Rhode Island seniors had received prescription drug discounts through the end of June this year as a result of the new law, totaling over $1.5 million in savings.

“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 we’ve taken steps to close the doughnut hole for Rhode Island seniors, and I’m going to keep fighting for lower drug prices.”

The doughnut hole exposes seniors to the full cost of prescription drugs after their yearly drug expenses exceed $2,840.  Drug coverage doesn’t resume until total drug spending hits $6,447 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.  Last year, 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.  This year, patients are receiving a 50% discount on all brand name drugs purchased while they are in the doughnut hole. 

On average, Rhode Island seniors who took advantage of this discount saved nearly $500 each. 

Whitehouse also supports legislation to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, which would deliver further savings for seniors.  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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Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921