Medicare's prescription coverage gap is getting noticeably smaller and easier to manage this year for millions of older and disabled people with high drug costs.
Medicare drug coverage gap shrinking
The "doughnut hole," an anxiety-inducing catch in an otherwise popular benefit, will shrink about 40% for those unlucky enough to land in it, according to new Medicare figures provided in response to a request from the Associated Press.
The average beneficiary who falls into the coverage gap would have spent $1,504 this year on prescriptions. But thanks to discounts and other provisions in President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul law, that cost fell to $901, according to Medicare's Office of the Actuary, which handles economic estimates.
A 50% discount that the law secured from pharmaceutical companies on brand name drugs yielded an average savings of $581. Medicare also picked up more of the cost of generic drugs, saving an additional $22.
The estimates are averages, so some Medicare recipients may do worse and others better. Also, it's still unclear if the discounts will start to overcome seniors' deep unease about the law.
Concern over cutting Medicare to expand coverage for the uninsured helped push older voters toward Republicans in the 2010 congressional elections. Obama and the Democrats have been trying to woo them back ever since.
"For people with high drug expenditures, the 50 percent discount offers real savings," said Tricia Neuman, director of Medicare policy for the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. "It's certainly more helpful than no coverage at all, which is what they had previously."
More than 2 million beneficiaries already have gotten some help, discounts that have gone largely to middle-class seniors, because the poor are covered in the gap at taxpayer expense.
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