Cantor: Healthcare repeal wouldn't cost seniors their $250 drug rebates

Seniors who received $250 checks to cover prescription drug costs under the healthcare reform law would not have to repay the money to the government if the measure is repealed, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Tuesday.

The checks that went out to 2.8 million Medicare recipients last year were one of the most tangible results of the healthcare law already to have taken effect. Much of the law has yet to be implemented.

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Asked directly whether Republicans envision seniors having to return the money, Cantor replied, “No.

“These checks were received under existing law now,” he told reporters at his weekly briefing. “If a repeal bill passes, and there’s any uncertainty as to whether that would have to be, whether those checks would have to be re-captured, we can speak to that then, but no, the intention is not to require seniors to return the $250 checks they received under operation of the law.”

Republicans have pledged to craft a replacement to the reform law, but that bill is not expected to be drafted for weeks, if not months.

The rebates were aimed at closing the coverage gap, widely know as the “doughnut hole,” that was created by the 2004 expansion of Medicare. It refers to the thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses that some recipients have to pay if their prescription drug costs exceed what Medicare covers but fall below the level at which “catastrophic” coverage kicks in.

Democrats have highlighted the return of the rebate checks as one possible consequence of repealing the healthcare law. While the House is expected to pass the repeal Wednesday, the debate could be rendered moot if the bill dies in the Senate, as expected.

The chief actuary for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Richard Foster, told The Hill in an interview that “in theory,” seniors would have to return the checks if repeal becomes law.

Democrats have been trying in recent weeks to highlight what they call the benefits to consumers in the healthcare law, including the expanded drug coverage and coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

A poll this week found that strong opposition to the law fell to the lowest levels in more than a year.

According to an Associated Press-GfK poll, 30 percent strongly oppose the reform law, the lowest percentage since September 2009, while Congress was still writing the legislation.

Forty percent supported the law and 41 percent opposed it. Just after the November midterms, 38 percent supported the law while 47 percent opposed it. 

This post was last updated at 5:45 p.m.