Medicare beneficiaries have saved a total of about $4.5 billion on prescription medications because of the 2010 health care law since January 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services plans to announce today.
"We're seeing consistent, steady savings for seniors thanks to the health care law," said Jon Blum, director of the Center for Medicare. "In just 21/2 half years, seniors have seen billions in savings, and those savings will continue to grow as the doughnut hole is fully closed."
The announcement comes two days after the Congressional Budget Office found that about 2 million more people than expected would be paying an average $1,200 penalty for not purchasing insurance as required by the law beginning in 2014. The number affected is significantly higher than the 4 million the CBO had estimated would pay a penalty in 2010, shortly after the bill passed.
In a statement, HHS spokeswoman Erin Shields Britt said that the CBO found 98 percent of Americans would not be affected by the penalty. "This update doesn't change the basic fact that the individual responsibility policy will only affect people who can afford health care but choose not to buy it," Britt said. The law provides subsidies to people who fall below 400 percent of the poverty line.
Drugmakers participating in Medicare agreed to give the government a 50 percent discount on premium drugs and 14 percent on generic drugs as part of the law, and the government passed those savings on to seniors. In 2012, the coverage gap - or "doughnut hole" - is $2,930. The law eliminates that gap by 2020. So far, no research has shown that the drugmakers have passed costs from those discounts on to other consumers, as some opponents of the law had feared.
Compared to last year, more patients have saved more money this year, Blum said. Through August 2012, beneficiaries have saved an average of $641.
"This could mean that more people are taking their medication as directed by their doctor on their prescriptions because they're more affordable," Blum said.
The increased number of patients on medications could also be the result of seniors using the provision of the law that eliminates out-of-pocket expenses for annual and preventive exams. Before, a colorectal-cancer screening could cost as much as $160, according to Health and Human Services.
"The law is already saving money on prescription drugs and ensuring millions of seniors can get the preventive care they need to stay healthy," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said.