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How Federal Health Reform is Helping Now

Published in the March 2011 of The Fifty Plus Advocate

At the end of January, we were gearing up for a major battle on Beacon Hill. Governor Patrick was readying the release of his 2012 state budget proposal. With a projected $1.8 billion shortfall, we worried how services for vulnerable seniors would be impacted, especially since they are already operating at bare bones.

While tough decisions were made, including troublesome cuts to adult day programs and protective services, Governor Patrick kept his promise to seniors and their families, level-funding most programs they count on, including home care.

The governor was also able to maintain the benefits of Prescription Advantage, the state’s pharmacy assistance program that works in tandem with Medicare Part D. It is a lifeline for almost 60,000 Bay State seniors who fall into the Medicare coverage gap – the dreaded doughnut hole – helping them to afford the medicine that keeps them healthy and out of more expensive care.

Although the budget proposal cut $9.8 million from the program, benefits remain the same. How, you ask? Thanks to the federal health care law – which is closing the Medicare doughnut hole.

According to AARP’s Rx Price Watch Report, the average annual cost for a brand name medication was about $1,400 in 2009. Starting this year, all seniors in the doughnut hole will receive a 50 percent discount for brand name drugs, and a 7 percent discount for generic drugs. These discounts will increase yearly until 2020, when the doughnut hole closes completely.

Bottom line: Federal health care reform is saving the state money on prescription drug assistance for seniors, enabling lawmakers to preserve Prescription Advantage while making life saving drugs more affordable for thousands of our most vulnerable citizens.

And, this savings couldn’t have come at a better time – as the state, and families, continue to struggle to make ends meet.

There’s much partisan bickering right now about health care reform. But, in Massachusetts, we see its positive impact at the state level, and now we’re seeing benefits from the federal law, too.

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