In this tough economy, with seniors hit particularly hard, I’m thankful that a boost to Social Security income starts in January. I’m also thankful that last year’s health care reform law is providing some relief from the cost of prescription drugs, which continues to place a heavy burden on many retired Rhode Islanders.
As I travel across the state, I have heard countless stories about Rhode Island seniors affected by the dreaded Medicare Part D “doughnut hole.” This coverage gap leaves thousands of Rhode Island seniors paying the full cost of their prescription drugs once their yearly expenses exceed $2,840. For some, this meant being forced to choose between taking their medication and putting food on the table or paying their bills. This is wrong, and I’ve been fighting to put an end to the doughnut hole since I was elected to the Senate.
A provision I worked hard to include in the law is now providing seniors with a 50 percent discount on brand name prescriptions when they hit the doughnut hole, and will end the doughnut hole completely by 2020.
These changes are already having a big impact here in the Ocean State. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 10,662 Rhode Island seniors have received prescription drug discounts this year as a result of the law, for a total savings of over $5.5 million as of the end of October. On average, individual Rhode Island seniors who fell into the doughnut hole this year saved more than $520 each.
One of those Rhode Islanders is Mary, a senior from Westerly who contacted me. The cost of Mary’s medications is enough to put her in the doughnut hole. Mary is now receiving a 50 percent discount on her brand name prescriptions, and has saved over $400 this year.
I’m glad that so many of our seniors are being helped by this new policy, and hope we can do more to lower drug costs for our seniors. One common-sense solution I support is legislation that would allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices from pharmaceutical companies. According to a study by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, the ability to negotiate volume discounts is used by the Veterans’ Administration to save its beneficiaries an average of 48 percent for the top 10 prescription drugs when compared to Medicare. We should allow Medicare to pursue these savings for seniors as well.
When I first took office in 2007, I pledged to make closing the prescription drug doughnut hole one of my top priorities in the Senate. I’m pleased that we’ve taken the steps to close the doughnut hole for Rhode Island seniors, and I’m going to continue to fight to lower prescription drug prices.
Sheldon Whitehouse is the junior U.S. Senator for Rhode Island. More information about his work for Rhode Islanders is available at whitehouse.senate.gov.