Nearly 3.5 million people saved more than $706 on prescriptions in 2012

By Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services

Posted March 21, 2013, Crossposted from healthcare.gov

In the three years since the Affordable Care Act became law, the slower growth of health care costs is saving money in Medicare and the private insurance market, helping to curb previously skyrocketing premiums and making Medicare stronger.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that Medicare and Medicaid spending would be 15 percent less — or about $200 billion— in 2020 than was previously projected, thanks to this slower growth. Medicare spending per beneficiary rose by just 0.4% in 2012, while Medicaid spending per beneficiary actually dropped by 1.9% last year. We are making Medicare stronger, too, by spending smarter, promoting coordinated care, and fighting fraud. Not only does this ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.  It means that those who count on Medicare — our grandparents, parents, our friends, and neighbors – will have it for years to come.

Today, we are announcing that thanks to the Affordable Care Act, more than 6.3 million seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare have saved more than $6.1 billion on prescription drugs since the health care law was enacted three years ago. This is the result of the law’s closing of the prescription coverage gap known as “the donut hole.”

Nearly 3.5 million people with Medicare saved an average of more than $706 each on their prescriptions in 2012.

In the case of Helen Rayon of Pennsylvania, the savings on her medications is enough to help her contribute to the education of her grandson. She says: “I take seven different medications. Getting the donut hole closed … gives me a little more money in my pocket.” Watch a video to learn more about Helen.

David Lutz, a community pharmacist from Hummelstown, PA, described his elderly customers, “splitting pills, taking doses every other day, missing doses, stretching their medications.”  But he says this has begun to change with the savings resulting from the Affordable Care Act, and that’s good for their health as well as their budgets.

After the law was passed, the Affordable Care Act provided a one-time $250 check for people with Medicare who reached the Part D prescription drug coverage gap in 2010. Since then, individuals in the donut hole have continued to receive savings on prescription drugs. In 2013 individuals in the donut hole are saving over 50% off of the cost of branded drugs. The savings on both brand name and generic drugs will continue to increase until the coverage gap is closed in 2020.

Along with savings on their medications, American seniors have also benefited from access to vital preventive services — such as mammograms, cholesterol checks, cancer screenings, and annual wellness visits — with no Part B coinsurance or deductibles. In 2012, more than 34 million seniors and people with disabilities with Medicare received at least one free preventive service. Having easier access to preventive services without worrying about the cost helps seniors stay healthier and identify health conditions before they become more serious and costly.

Helen works as a health-and-wellness coordinator at a senior center, arranging for health and fitness activities for seniors older than herself.  She knows they struggle with the costs of staying healthy. “If it weren’t for the health care reform, many of our seniors would not get to a doctor,” to get a check up, Helen says. “It is expensive for us to keep good health.”

Affordable Care Act initiatives are also ensuring that if Medicare beneficiaries do end up in the hospital that their care is coordinated and they stay out of the hospital once they’re discharged. This also gives Medicare beneficiaries – and other taxpayers – more value for their health care dollars. In fact, hospital readmissions in Medicare have fallen for the first time on record, resulting in 70,000 fewer readmissions in the last half of 2012.

The Affordable Care Act is helping us keep our moral commitment to ensure that our grandparents and other seniors get the high-quality, affordable health care and security they need and deserve.

To learn more about how the Affordable Care Act is saving seniors on prescription drug costs by closing the donut hole coverage gap, visit www.hhs.gov/news/press/2013pres/03/20130321a.html

Follow Secretary Sebelius on Twitter at @Sebelius.

This spring, put prevention into practice

The onset of spring is a reminder of new beginnings – the longer hours of daylight, sprouting tulips and warmer weather are all indicators of a new season, and a new reason to be proactive with your health.  One simple way to manage your health is to practice preventive care. Because preventive services can find health problems early, when treatment works best, it’s a crucial step in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Your Preventive Services with Medicare

If you have Medicare, then you have access to a variety of preventive tests and screenings, most at no cost to you. If you’re new to Medicare, your “Welcome to Medicare” preventive visit is now covered for free during your first 12 months of Part B coverage. This visit includes a review of your medical and social history related to your health and education and counseling about preventive services, including certain screenings, shots, and referrals for other care, if needed.

If you’ve had Part B for longer than 12 months, you can get a yearly wellness visit to develop or update a personalized prevention plan based on your current health and risk factors.  In addition to these important wellness visits, Medicare covers screening tests for diabetes, colon cancer, breast cancer, osteoporosis and heart disease, just to name a few.

So as you tend to your garden this spring, make a commitment to tend to yourself too. Practice preventive care to ensure you stay healthy, live longer, and delay or prevent many diseases.

Join the fight against Medicare fraud

Medicare fraud affects everyone. You can team up with Medicare to help.

Our Senior Medicare Patrol volunteers are teaching people like you how to spot, report, and stop fraud, and protect themselves from identity theft.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Guard your Medicare and Social Security numbers. Treat them like you would treat your credit cards.
  • Hang up the phone if someone calls and asks for your Medicare number, Social Security number, or bank or credit card information. We will NEVER call and ask for this information, and we will NEVER call you or come to your home uninvited to sell Medicare products.
  • Be suspicious of anyone who offers you free medical equipment or services and then requests your Medicare number. It’s illegal, and it’s not worth it!
  • Do not let anyone borrow or pay you to use your Medicare ID card or your identity.
  • Check your Medicare claims for errors. Look at your Medicare Summary Notice (MSN) or statements from your Medicare plan. You can also check www.MyMedicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) as soon as your claims have been processed. The sooner you see and report errors, the sooner we can stop fraud. TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048.
  • Call 1-800-MEDICARE to report any suspected fraud.

Learn more about spotting and reporting fraud, and get tips on protecting yourself from identity theft.

Find out about Senior Medicare Patrol activities in your area.