Published: Aug 29, 2006 05:08 PM
Modified: Jul 20, 2006 12:57 PM
They call it the doughnut hole. It's more like a black hole that Medicare recipients fall into when their prescription drug benefits come to a screeching halt.
Millions of Americans signed up for prescription drug plans under the new Medicare Part D. They were told they would save lots of money, and in the early going this has been true. Uncle Sam picked up 75 percent of the cost once a $250 deductible was met.
But lots of folks did not realize that once they spent $2,250 on top of their monthly insurance premiums, they would be responsible for 100 percent of their prescription drug bills. Many are once again experiencing sticker shock when they purchase their medicine.
To make things worse, prescription drug prices are rising at an alarming rate. The advocacy organization for older Americans, AARP, recently reported that the cost of brand-name pharmaceuticals is up substantially since the new Medicare Part D drug coverage went into effect last January.
AARP reports that prices have increased by nearly 4 percent during the first quarter. That is considerably more than the inflation rate and represents the steepest increase in brand-name prescription prices in six years.
According to AARP, the popular sleeping aid Ambien jumped more than 13 percent during the first three months of 2006. Lipitor was also up significantly in that same time period. The trade organization for the pharmaceutical industry challenges AARP's numbers, but another group of consumer advocates called Families USA has reported similar increases.
This is really bad news for senior citizens who hit the doughnut hole in the next several weeks. First, they will have to keep paying their insurance premiums (which can cost $15 to $40 per month, depending on the insurance plan) even though they may get no prescription drug coverage for the rest of the year. Second, they will pay full cost for all their drugs until their total annual drug bill reaches $5,100.
Some Medicare recipients with extra-high drug bills will actually emerge from the doughnut hole before the end of the year. Then they will be covered for roughly 95 percent of their drug costs. Most won't make it through, however, and will find the next several months taxing on the pocketbook.
Those who are unlikely to get through the doughnut hole may want to consider saving money by purchasing their medicines from Canada. Drugs bought outside the U.S. don't count toward the total, though, so this is not a good strategy for those who expect to spend more than $5,100 this year.
People who are not eligible for Medicare and lack drug coverage have to pay full cost. With prices skyrocketing, this represents a tremendous burden for millions of Americans.
We have prepared a Guide to Saving Money on Medicine to help people use generic drugs safely and learn more about buying drugs from Canada. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $2 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (63 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. CA-99, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It can also be downloaded for $2 from our Web site: http://www.peoplespharmacy.com
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