Washington, DC – 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 paying the total cost of their prescription drugs every year. According to a recently released report by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, more than 10,600 Rhode Island seniors have received prescription drug discounts as a result of the law, for a total savings of over $5.5 million as of the end of October. In addition, recent data shows that Rhode Island leads the nation in the percentage of Medicare enrollees who have received a free annual wellness visit.
“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 have 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 $2,840. 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 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 this year saved nearly $520 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.