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Letter from Senate Dems to Boehner

January 3, 2011

Speaker-elect John Boehner
Office of the Speaker of the House
H-232, U.S. Capitol
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Speaker-elect Boehner,

As you know, several key provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act became effective on January 1, 2011. We write out of concern for one particular measure that addresses a loophole in the Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Ever since it was first enacted in 2003, the Medicare Part D program has come with a catch. Once an initial coverage limit is reached, beneficiaries have to absorb 100 percent of their drug costs until catastrophic coverage kicks in. This gap in coverage, known as the Medicare "donut hole," totaled $3,610 in 2010. That means that approximately 3.4 million U.S. seniors with the heaviest reliance on prescription drugs faced the prospect of paying up to $4,000 out of pocket before they qualified for further assistance from Medicare.

This gap in coverage has been a defect in the Medicare Part D program since its creation. It poses a hardship for all seniors, and for some, it has even bankrupted them.

Thankfully, the federal health care law signed in 2010 fully closes the so-called "donut hole" by 2020. The new law provides that seniors will receive a 50-percent discount on the brand name drugs that they purchase while stuck in the "donut hole" and thus will save them thousands of dollars starting in 2011. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, seniors who have high prescription drug spending will save as much as $12,300 over the next 10 years and seniors with low drug costs will save an average of $2,400 over 10 years.

This is no minor reform. But almost as soon as it has taken effect, it is already in jeopardy.

The incoming House Republican majority that you lead has made the repeal of the federal health care law one of its chief goals. We urge you to consider the unintended consequences that the law's repeal would have on a number of popular consumer protections that help middle class Americans. The "donut hole" fix is just one measure that would be threatened by a repeal effort. Taking this benefit away from seniors would be irresponsible and reckless at a time when it is becoming harder and harder for seniors to afford a healthy retirement.

If House Republicans move forward with a repeal of the health care law that threatens consumer benefits like the "donut hole" fix, we will block it in the Senate. This proposal deserves a chance to work. It is too important to be treated as collateral damage in a partisan mission to repeal health care.


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
Senate Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin
Senate Democratic Vice Chairman Charles E. Schumer
Senate Democratic Conference Secretary Patty Murray
Senate Democratic Policy Committee Vice-Chair Debbie Stabenow

By Greg Sargent  | January 3, 2011; 1:23 PM ET
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