The first government checks to help Medicare recipients with big prescription drug bills were mailed Thursday, and more will be sent in the middle of every month.
A total of 4 million people will receive $250 checks this year, once they hit a gap in Medicare prescription drug coverage known as the "doughnut hole." People who fall into this gap are responsible for $3,610 in drug costs in 2010 before their Medicare coverage kicks in again.
Checks will be mailed when people reach the "doughnut hole," which starts after they've accumulated $2,830 in prescription drug costs.
Beneficiaries don't have to apply for the checks. But people who do not receive one after hitting the gap should wait a month before calling 1-800-MEDICARE, spokesman Peter Ashkenaz said. He said Medicare could experience some delays in receiving prescription drug information from plan providers.
Health care reform will gradually close this gap over the next decade. Significant savings start next year, when the law provides a 50 percent discount on brand name drugs for seniors in the gap, and a smaller discount on generics. Discounts gradually increase year by year until 2020, when the coverage gap will be fully phased out.
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