ACA delivers big savings for seniors

Most of the Affordable Care Act won’t take effect for a few years — and if court rulings and the 2012 elections go a certain way, it may not take effect at all — but there’s already evidence that the reform law is working.

It’s making a big difference in providing coverage for young adults; it’s providing treatment options for women like Spike Dolomite Ward; and it’s slowing the growth in Medicare spending.

It’s also, as Jonathan Cohn explained, saving seniors quite a bit of money on prescription medication.

Under the terms of the Affordable Care Act — yes, Obamacare — pharmaceutical companies provide a 50 percent discount on name-brand drugs for seniors who hit the “donut hole.” The donut hole is the gap in coverage that begins once an individual Medicare beneficiary has purchased $2,840 in drugs over the course of a year. At that point, the beneficiary becomes completely responsible for prescription costs — in other words, he or she has to pay for them out of his pocket — until he or she has spent another $3,600.

It may not sound like a lot of money. But the seniors who hit the donut hole are, by definition, the ones with the most medical problems. Saving a few hundred dollars, on average, makes a real difference. And that’s precisely what’s happening, according to data the administration released today. According to its calculations, 2.65 million seniors hit the donut hole — and then saved an average of $569 each. The data runs through October. More seniors will hit the donut hole through year’s end, so the total number of beneficiaries who take advantage of the discount in 2012 should end up higher.

In an interview with USA Today, Jonathan Blum, director of the Center for Medicare, added, “We’re very pleased with the numbers. We found the Part D premiums have also stayed constant, despite predictions that they would go up in 2012.”

Seniors have been some of the biggest skeptics of the Affordable Care Act, but they’ve also seen some of the most direct benefits. Indeed, USAT‘s report went on to note that as of the end of November, “more than 24 million people, or about half of those with traditional Medicare, have gone in for a free annual physical or other screening exam since the rules changed this year because of the health care law.”

If Republicans repeal the law, all of these benefits will simply disappear. It’s something voters may want to keep in mind.