Thursday, February 17, 2011
The passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in March 2010 promised to put an end to the “doughnut hole,” the gap in prescription-drug coverage that is the most controversial component of the Medicare Part D benefit.1 Several months ago, seniors who had reached the spending threshold that marked the beginning of their doughnut hole began to receive their $250 rebate checks. Incrementally between now and 2020, the coverage gap will be filled with subsidies from manufacturers of brand-name drugs and from the federal government. Thus, the ACA, like Part D itself, has expanded coverage for prescription medications — but it has done so in a complex manner that owes more to political wrangling than to any straightforward effort to promote health and cost-effective medication use. The plan for filling in the doughnut hole will most likely confuse many beneficiaries and, at least temporarily, work against cost consciousness, and providers and payers will need to assist patients in navigating the benefit and identifying affordable medications in the years leading up to 2020.