Senate Moves to Fix "Doughnut Hole" in Drug Prices

5161903With the clock ticking on Senate Democrats' efforts to draw up a health care bill they all can agree on before the end of the year, Senate leaders on Monday said they would commit to providing seniors with better prescription drug coverage through Medicare.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) promised to close the gap in Medicare prescription drug coverage called the "doughnut hole," meeting the top priority of the powerful senior lobbyist group AARP.

"Because I am committed to saving lives, saving money and saving Medicare, I am committed to fully closing [the coverage gap], once and for all," Reid said on the Senate floor, as the Washington Post reports. "The legislation we will send to President Obama for his signature will make good on his promise and ours to forever end this indefensible injustice for America's seniors."

Currently, Medicare beneficiaries only receive coverage for $2,700 worth of prescription drugs. Once they reach that limit, they are expected to pay for their own medicine until their expenses reach $6,154, when they start receiving coverage again.

AARP CEO Barry Rand released a statement thanking Reid and other Senate leaders for committing to closing "a dangerous gap in prescription drug coverage that leaves more than three million seniors without affordable medications each year."

"No American should ever be forced to choose between filling their prescriptions or buying their groceries," he said.

The health care bill passed last month in the House of Representatives fully closes the "doughnut hole," but the Senate, worried about the cost of its health care bill, only partially filled the gap in its bill. Reid signaled Monday that the "doughnut hole" would be closed once the Senate and the House merge their two bills -- which will happen after the Senate passes its own bill.

The AARP had indicated it would not support the overall health care bill if it did not close the doughnut hole, according to the Post.

Easing the cost of prescription drug prices for seniors appears to have been part of a deal to get past a Democratic stalemate over another proposal to allow the importation of drugs from other countries, the Hill reports.

Allowing drug wholesalers to import drugs at cheaper prices from other countries would save the government and consumers money, but some Democrats appear anxious about losing the support of the pharmaceutical industry. Drug makers continue to fight against the drug importation amendment, which will finally come up for a vote today, the Hill reports.

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