Magazine article Drug Topics

Donut Hole Dunks Politicians in Latest Election

Magazine article Drug Topics

Donut Hole Dunks Politicians in Latest Election

Article excerpt

If there is a lesson from the last election, it may be this: Beware of seniors bearing donuts. Pennsylvania Representative Melissa Hart, a Republican from the southwestern part of the state, certainly should have. Instead, just two weeks before the mid-term elections, Hart called the police to handle a group of 40 Association of Retired Americans (ARA) activists who brought donuts as a demonstration against the donut-hole gap in coverage in the Medicare Part D benefit. Hart, who was leading in polls at the time, went on to lose the election.

More than three million Medicare Part D beneficiaries are expected to reach the donut-hole gap in coverage at some point this year. The gap in coverage begins when recipients have spent a total of $2,250 on prescription drug costs and lasts until catastrophic coverage begins only after the recipient has shelled out an additional $2,850.

Outside of the protests, measuring the current impact of the donut hole has been difficult. In a move perhaps designed to minimize conflict with donut-hole seniors, the Department of Homeland security announced in October that it would no longer interdict small amounts of prescription drugs coming from Canada, even though drug importation is still technically illegal.

"The behavior is all about how to get the drugs," argued Deane Beebe, director of communications at the Medicare Rights Center. "Some seniors rely on programs from the pharmaceutical companies, others resort to mail order from abroad, while some are going to places like Wal-Mart or Costco. Most seniors don't see any light at the end of the tunnel. We're seeing a lot of despair, disappointment, and anger."

Still there is little hard evidence on how seniors are reacting, allowing activists and politicians to come up with their own spin. When first proposed, the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA) and especially the Medicare Part D provisions were predicted to be a political advantage for the Republican Party. Instead, Medicare Part D and especially the donut hole became rallying cries for opponents. In addition to Hart, numerous other Republican Representatives and Senators received donut delivery protests.

Following the election, opponents were clearly happy and saw sentiment against Medicare Part D as a key issue in the Democratic victory. As Ed Coyle, ARA executive director, noted, some of the politicians most closely associated with MMA lost in their individual races, including Nancy Johnson (R, Conn. …

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