The doughnut hole is getting bigger; would Obama or McCain plug it?

BusinessWeek published a story this week on “Medicare’s Costly Doughnut Hole,” which mostly rehashes a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation (reported here previously) that shows many seniors forgo needed medications rather than pay full price for their meds.

The story also reports that the doughnut hole is getting bigger…

The doughnut hole is exacerbating a growing Medicare financial burden on seniors. On Sept. 26, health-care advisory firm Avalere Health released a report predicting Part D beneficiaries will see their premiums rise 24% on average, to $37 a month, in 2009. Those who joined the 10 most popular plans will swallow a 30% increase … Some drug companies offer assistance programs, Fletcher says, but only for the lowest-income seniors, and only for those willing to endure a tough application process. Those who watch Part D carefully worry that some patients may be cutting back on their drug intake altogether to avoid the doughnut hole, even if they’re endangering their health by doing so.

…and that Obama or McCain may have a chance, if not to fill the hole, then to at least reduce its size for some or all Medicare recipients:

Health policy experts believe that the next Administration will be under pressure to address the doughnut hole, and both candidates have expressed some support for reforming the program. Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.) endorses the idea of letting the government negotiate drug prices for Part D (it doesn’t have the right to do so now). Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) has said that higher-income beneficiaries should pay higher premiums for their Part D plans.

Both ideas—dropping drug prices and shifting more of the up-front premiums to members who can afford to pay—have been bandied about in Washington as potential ways of at least shrinking the doughnut hole without the government having to pony up more to support Part D. The prospect of a $700 billion bailout of the financial industry is certainly taking attention away from health-care reform, but there is little doubt the next President will place the doughnut hole high on his agenda.

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