Menendez, Schumer: Healthcare Repeal Bill Could Force Seniors to Repay $250 Rebate Checks -- Senators Prod House GOP to Pull Back Repeal Bid Unless Seniors are Protected
Top Medicare Official Warned Last Week That "In Theory' Repeal Would Force Government To Claw Back Payments to 3 Million Seniors. Senators Call Cantor's Promise To Fix Problem At Later Date "Insufficient' Fix To Medicare's Donut Hole, Which Saves Seniors 50 Percent Off Prescription Drug Costs, Would Also Be Undone by House Repeal.
U.S. Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) said today they are concerned that the House's vote to repeal the new health care law could eventually force seniors on Medicare to have to repay $250 rebate checks they received last year to help with their prescription drug costs. In a letter to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the senators urged him to pull back the House repeal measure if the concern turns out to be real, as a top Medicare official warned last week.
"We urge you to commit to undo this problem now, if it is determined that repayment is necessary," the senators wrote.
Last year, in a step authorized under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the government provided checks of $250 to Medicare beneficiaries who fell into the gap in prescription drug coverage known as the "donut hole." Richard Foster, the Chief Actuary for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, stated in a report published last week in The Hill newspaper that "in theory," the House-passed repeal bill would force seniors to return these checks.
Cantor reacted by saying action could be taken to address the problem at a later date. The senators, in their letter, called that response "insufficient."
"We will not support stripping away these protections and benefits from America's seniors. We have read your comments that any unintended consequences of the House-passed repeal measure would be addressed at a later date. We find these assurances insufficient," the senators wrote.
Schumer and Menendez, both members of the Senate Finance Committee, also noted that repeal would threaten the larger solution to Medicare's donut hole that was enacted under the ACA. As of January 1, seniors who fall into the coverage gap receive a 50 percent on their out-of-pocket prescription drug purchases.
A copy of the letter appears below.
January 23, 2011
Majority Leader Eric Cantor
Office of the House Majority Leader
H-329, U.S. Capitol
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Leader Cantor,
As members of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Medicare program, we write today to express concern about the significant harms to Medicare beneficiaries that will result from repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Since it was enacted in 1965, the Medicare program has provided security and healthcare to America's seniors. The ACA continues that commitment by protecting the guaranteed benefits of all Medicare beneficiaries, modernizing the program, adding new free benefits, fighting waste, fraud, and abuse, and increasing access to higher quality care. Repeal of this modernization means pushing Medicare back in time and robbing seniors of valuable advances in medicine.
We are particularly concerned that repeal would reverse the course of making prescription drugs more affordable for seniors. The legislation approved by the House could require seniors to repay the government. As a first step to reducing the cost of prescription drugs, the ACA provided a $250 rebate check to seniors who fell into the "donut hole" -- or gap in prescription drug coverage - in 2010. Repeal could force 3 million seniors to repay the government the $250 that they received last year.
Richard Foster, the Chief Actuary for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), has said that "in theory," seniors would have to return the checks if repeal becomes law. As you know, the burden of returning these funds will be significant on these millions of American seniors. In most circumstances, the individuals have already spent the funds, making the government's attempt to claw back these payments both impractical and unfair.
Repeal of the ACA will also re-open the Medicare "donut hole" -- immediately removing the 50 percent discount on prescription drugs that millions of seniors receive today. Seniors would once again be forced to pay out of pocket for important preventative services like mammograms, annual physicals, cervical cancer and colorectal cancer screenings, cholesterol tests, and flu shots. Repeal will also revoke the 12 additional years of solvency for the Medicare Trust Fund, harming America's seniors and taxpayers.
We will not support stripping away these protections and benefits from America's seniors. We have read your comments that any unintended consequences of the House-passed repeal measure would be addressed at a later date. We find these assurances insufficient.
We urge you to commit to undo this problem now, if it is determined that repayment is necessary.
Senator Charles E. Schumer
Senator Robert Menendez