U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson today warned that the House-initiated effort to totally repeal the new health-care law would have harmful consequences for many of the nation's Medicare-covered senior citizens, including an estimated 260,000 in Florida.
That's because a key provision of the new law kicks in this year to start closing the gap in Medicare prescription drug coverage, called the donut hole. After a Medicare beneficiary passes prescription drug costs of around $2,700, he or she is financially responsible for the cost of prescriptions until the expense goes above about $6,100.
Under the coming change, Medicare beneficiaries will receive a 50-percent discount on brand-name drugs whose manufacturers have signed agreements with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The savings will be applied to partially fix the donut hole. Other changes in the health-care law will result in completely closing the drug-coverage gap by 2020.
"I believe that no matter where people stand on certain specifics of this complex law, most of us can agree the current system can be unfair and too costly," Nelson said. "The system needs to be fixed. I don't think the health-care law is perfect - but, it certainly helps a lot of people especially senior citizens."
Although the House says it will vote on the repeal of law in the near future, Nelson doesn't expect it to pass the Senate. Instead, he said, there likely will be some changes aimed at improving the law.
For instance, Nelson said, he'd like to see passage of the amendment he offered in 2009 that would have forced the drug industry to give up what he terms extra profits worth about $106 billion over 10 years. His amendment would have forced the pharmaceutical industry to surrender a financial windfall it gets on drugs sold to a group of Medicare patients who also qualify for Medicaid, the poorest seniors labeled as "dual eligibles."
When Congress first enacted a partial Medicare-drug benefit in 2003, about six million elderly Americans who had been receiving drug benefits under Medicaid, the government insurance program for the poor, were instead shifted into the new Medicare drug program, resulting in the government paying far higher prices for drugs.
Nelson introduced his amendment during Senate Finance Committee negotiations on the health-care law in October 2009. But the drugmakers' lobby targeted it for defeat. It narrowly failed by three votes, or 13-10.