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Some seniors get prescription payment help

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Tax-free checks of $250 will be in the mail this week for some Hawaii senior citizens with costly prescription medicine bills.

Checks will go to people whose drug costs this year put them into the Medicare D coverage gap known as the "doughnut hole."

U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono said "tens of thousands" of island residents will receive the one-time reimbursement this year as provided in the recently passed health reform legislation.

Some 16,500 Hawaii residents fell into the "doughnut hole" gap in 2009, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services figures.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said people will receive the one-time rebate within 45 days of reaching the $2,830 drug bill threshold. About 4 million people in the country will get the checks this year.

Hirono reminded Medicare beneficiaries at recent meetings in Kaneohe and Lihue to watch for mail from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and not throw it away, according to a news release.

The health care reform act provides that seniors will receive 50 percent discounts on brand-name drugs when they reach the "doughnut hole" threshold in 2011, and by 2020 the gap will be eliminated.

The "doughnut hole" gap was a provision in the 2003 act that created Medicare D coverage. Beneficiaries pay 25 percent of their drug costs until the total reaches $2,830. At that point they pay the entire cost until their annual expenses reach $6,440, after which they pay 5 percent of drug costs for the rest of the year.


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