By Jason Millman - 01/21/11 01:50 PM EST
Three million seniors in the so-called "doughnut hole" have already received discounted prescription drugs through a highly touted provision of the healthcare reform law, President Obama's health department announced Friday morning.
According to the Friday morning announcement, three million Medicare beneficiaries in 2010 received a one-time, tax-free $250 rebate check for costs in the doughnut hole.
“For too long, many seniors and people with disabilities have been forced to make impossible choices between paying for needed prescription medication and necessities like food and rent,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “The Affordable Care Act offers long overdue relief by lowering prescription drug costs each year until the [doughnut] hole is closed.”
The announcement comes days after the House, now under Republican control, voted to repeal the new law.
House Republican Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) this week said seniors would not have to re-pay the $250 check if the repeal bill became law, which is highly unlikely as long as the Senate is in control of Democrats and President Obama is in the White House.
Democrats, in their staunch defense of the reform law, have been emphasizing its numerous consumer protections – especially the doughnut hole provision that gradually reduces the amount of out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries with high prescription drug bills.
Starting in 2011, seniors in the doughtnut hole coverage gap will receive a 50 percent discount on brand-name drugs. Under healthcare reform, the discount will gradually increase to 75 percent by 2020.