By Mike Lillis
More 300,000 seniors caught in the “doughnut hole” of Medicare’s prescription drug benefit will soon be receiving $250 checks from Uncle Sam, the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) reminded Thursday.
The rebates, part of the Democrats’ effort to close the doughnut hole incrementally during the next decade, were included in the new health reform law. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the rebates will help seniors “struggling to afford the medications they need and their basic living expenses.”
Sebelius will be in Manchester, N.H., Thursday afternoon to announce the rebates officially. The HHS secretary will also warn seniors to be wary of fraudsters preying on seniors enrolled in the drug benefit.
The doughnut hole has been controversial since a GOP-led Congress created Medicare’s prescription drug benefit, called Part D, in 2003. Under the program, the government pays 75 percent of seniors’ drug costs up to $2,830, when patients must begin paying full price. After total drug costs hit $6,440, the government picks up 95 percent of the tab, meaning the doughnut hole is $3,610.
Thursday’s rebates will target those seniors who entered the doughnut hole in the second quarter of 2010. A first round of $250 checks, sent out on June 10, went to the roughly 70,000 seniors who entered the coverage gap in the first quarter.