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Senators vow to close Medicare gap

Senators have pledged to use the healthcare reform bill to close the gap in Medicare drug coverage that is commonly referred to as the 'doughnut hole'

Senators Harry Reid (D-NV), Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Max Baucus (D-MT) pledged this week to use the healthcare reform bill that Congress will soon send to President Obama to close the gap in Medicare drug coverage that is commonly referred to as the 'doughnut hole'.

The trio of influential Democrats – Reid is senate majority leader, Dodd is a member of the senate HELP committee, and Baucus is senate finance chairman – delivered remarks on the senate floor promising that the bill would include provisions to help elderly US citizens who find themselves with prescription drug bills totalling between $2,700 and $6,100 a year. Medicare Part D, the programme's prescription drug benefit, currently covers amounts below and above those numbers, but elderly citizens whose annual bills fall between the two figures are left paying the entire amount themselves.

"We have already taken the first steps to fix this in the current bill, closing the gap by half and by an additional $500 for 2010.  Because I am committed to saving lives, saving money and saving Medicare, I am committed to fully closing it, once and for all," Reid said.

"Once we pass this bill, we will do so in our conference committee with the House, whose bill already closes the gap," he added. "The legislation we will send to President Obama for his signature will make good on his promise and ours to forever end this indefensible injustice for America's seniors."

Dodd noted that in his home state of Connecticut, 25 per cent of Part D enrollees fall into the doughnut hole. "I understand that we may not have the opportunity to fix this issue in the Senate bill before it leaves this chamber, so I support the idea of closing the doughnut hole in the conference committee," he said.

AARP, the membership group for older Americans, released a statement praising the senators for their commitment. "Obviously, much work remains to send the President a final healthcare reform package that works for all Americans," said AARP CEO A Barry Rand. "Tonight, though, we are encouraged by the pledge of support from Leader Reid and Senators Baucus and Dodd. The President pledged to close the doughnut hole by 2019, and we were proud to endorse legislation in the House of Representatives that will make that a reality. We look forward to working with the Majority Leader, the chairmen and their colleagues to pass a final healthcare reform bill that meets this critical need for millions of older Americans in Medicare."

AARP recently joined with other groups including the American Medical Association and the Consumers Union in sending a letter to Reid urging the Senate to eliminate the gap.

17th December 2009

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