(NNPA) – If you’re one of the 3 million Americans who have fallen into Medicare’s prescription “doughnut hole” this year, you know what it is to live in the twilight zone.
You’ve bought so many prescriptions, Part D won’t cover them anymore. Some help is on the way.
In June, the first round of $250 rebate checks went out to 80,000 Medicare seniors who’ve fallen into the Medicare Part D gap. Checks will keep going out throughout 2010 as more people reach the doughnut hole.
This one-time payment is part of the new health care law, and it’s meant to provide some immediate relief to help people in Medicare with their prescription drug costs. The payment is the first step toward closing the doughnut hole, which will lower drug costs for millions of seniors who are currently paying thousands of dollars out of their own pockets.
The $250 payment is automatic. If you’re enrolled in Medicare Part D, and you’re in the doughnut hole, the check should be in the mail.
For African-American families struggling with health issues, especially in the current economic climate, relief from the high cost of drugs is welcome.
Studies show that African Americans in Medicare are twice as likely as whites to report problems affording prescription drugs.
African American men and women are less likely than whites to get preventive health screenings that could detect chronic diseases at an earlier, more easily treated stage. The combination of higher rates of disease, fewer preventive measures, and the inability to afford prescriptions puts Blacks’ health at greater risk.
For example, African-Americans are much more likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Black women are far more likely than white women to have several cancers, including colorectal, pancreatic, and stomach. Among Black males, there is a greater incidence of prostate, lung, colorectal, and stomach cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s Office of Minority Health.
So, while not a cure-all, an automatic rebate check may help ease the financial burden on families. And it may offer some peace of mind to know that you do not have to do anything in order to receive your check.
That said, there are important things to be aware of if you do expect to be in the doughnut hole this year. Think about the following advice as you sort out whether you are eligible to receive a check.
• Keep all your receipts. People with Medicare Part D coverage should automatically receive a check after reaching a threshold. If you think you reached the doughnut hole, but you did not receive your check, having the receipts will be helpful.
• Watch out for scams. If a person tells you, especially for a fee, they can help you get the check faster, don’t believe them. Report them to the police or the attorney general.
• Keep your address current. The address the check will be mailed to will be the same address Social Security uses to reach you. If you change your address, call Social Security to notify them of the change at 1-800-772-1213.
• Be a smart consumer. Some Medicare beneficiaries may be able to avoid – or at least delay – falling into the doughnut hole and save money on prescription drugs. AARP’s Doughnut hole calculator (www.aarp.org/doughnuthole) can show Medicare beneficiaries when they are most likely to fall into the doughnut hole and identify less costly but equally effective drugs available in the their particular Part D plans.
Catherine Georges is a member of the AARP board of directors. For more information on the health care law, go to www.aarp.org/getthefacts.