Today is "Donut Hole Day," when the average Medicare enrollee falls into Medicare Part D's donut hole, the gap in coverage for those beneficiaries with annual drug costs between $2,250 and $5,100.
As a result, millions of seniors caught in the donut hole will go to the pharmacy this fall and be forced to pay thousands of dollars for prescriptions.
Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee released a report this week saying that about 7 million Americans in stand-alone prescription drug plans are at risk of falling into the donut hole. This is in addition to the nearly 6 million Americans with Medicare Advantage plans, most of which are also at risk of falling into the donut hole.
Their report estimated that 88 percent of the Medicare beneficiaries with stand-alone coverage ended up with plans that contained a gap.
The day did not go unnoticed. Seniors groups, consumer organizations and Democrats issued statements and held rallies. Wal-Mart unveiled a plan to cut the price of generic drugs to $4 at its pharmacies in the Tampa area, expanding by January to all of Florida.
Seniors have complained about the provision since the new drug program was enacted but the complaints are getting louder now that millions of Americans find themselves suddenly with no drug coverage.
"This costly, confusing and corrupt prescription drug plan written by and for the pharmaceutical and insurance companies exemplifies the conservative ideology of governance -- outsource essential government services to corporate cronies and pass the bill on to the taxpayers," said Roger Hickey of the Campaign for America's Future.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), joined Hickey in a conference call with reporters urging Congress to fix the harmful coverage gap.
"Seniors in Michigan and around the country are stunned to learn they are falling into Medicare's donut hole -- a gap in coverage that will have them scrambling to pay thousands of dollars for prescriptions they thought would be covered," said Stabenow.
"It didn't have to be this way, but unfortunately, this Medicare prescription drug program was created for the drug companies and not for seniors."
The Alliance for Retired Americans (ARA) held events through the country to highlight the day and rally seniors to ask Congress to eliminate the donut hole.
Many seniors and persons with disabilities were unaware of the donut hole when they enrolled in the new Part D plans, said Edward Coyle, executive director of the Alliance. Even if they were aware, it would have cost nearly $40 more per month for a plan without a coverage gap.
Since the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan was passed in 2003, there have been three amendments introduced in the House of Representatives and one amendment introduced in the Senate authorizing Medicare to use its bulk purchasing power to negotiate the price of drugs, thereby reducing the cost of the program and providing Congress with the funds to fill in the gap in coverage. All four amendments have been rejected along partisan lines.
"Because the drug companies' interests were put ahead of seniors, taxpayers are paying a Cadillac price for a Pinto prescription drug benefit for seniors. Part D must be fixed to provide a real prescription drug benefit that puts seniors first," said Brad Woodhouse, spokesman for Americans United.