Citing benefits for seniors, Senate leaders say they will block repeal efforts

Leading Senate Democrats warned that the upper chamber will block any effort to repeal the new healthcare reform law in a letter sent to Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Monday.

Pointing to a reform law provision that closes the so-called Medicare doughnut hole for prescription drugs, the senators said consumer protections included in the reform law would be eliminated if Republicans made good on their promise to repeal the reform law.

“If House Republicans move forward with a repeal of the health care law that threatens consumer benefits like the ‘[doughnut] hole’ fix, we will block it in the Senate,” they wrote. “This proposal deserves a chance to work. It is too important to be treated as collateral damage in a partisan mission to repeal health care.”

Under the 2003 law that created the Medicare prescription drug program, beneficiaries that spend between two certain thresholds — the doughnut hole — were responsible for the drugs' entire cost. On Jan. 1, seniors enrolled in Medicare Part D started receiving a 50 percent discount on brand-name prescriptions in the doughnut hole, and they will gradually receive greater discounts as the reform law closes the gap by 2020.

“Taking this benefit away from seniors would be irresponsible and reckless at a time when it is becoming harder and harder for seniors to afford a healthy retirement,” said the letter sent by Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), Dick Durbin (Ill.), Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Patty Murray (Wash.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.).

In 2010, Medicare paid 75 percent of drug costs below $2,830, with seniors were responsible for the full cost up to $6,440. Medicare paid 95 percent of the costs above that threshold. 

The senators said closing the doughnut hole will save as much as $12,300 over 10 years for seniors with high drug costs and $2,400 on average for seniors with low drug costs.