The Affordable Care Act is working to help bring down the cost of prescription drugs for seniors enrolled in the Medicare Part D prescription drug program and today, we got more good news for our seniors.
This afternoon, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that Medicare prescription drug plan premiums for 2011 will stay similar to rates beneficiaries are currently paying this year. The average premiums in 2010 were $29 per month -- in 2011 we expect average monthly premiums to be just a dollar more. All beneficiaries should check to make sure that the plan offerings that will be available in 2011 are right for them when information on those plans becomes available in October.
While there has been almost no change in premiums for 2011, people with Medicare will see big improvements in drug coverage next year. Under the Affordable Care Act, they will see lower prescription drug costs, if they fall into the coverage gap or "donut hole." This year, people with Medicare who are in the donut hole are receiving one-time $250 rebate checks. Next year, they will receive 50% discounts on brand-name drugs and in each year their costs will be reduced even more until the donut hole is closed in 2020 - meaning that after 2020 there will be no more coverage gap, and people with Medicare will just pay their normal cost-sharing amount until they reach the annual out-of-pocket limit.
And just like President Obama promised -- guaranteed benefits for the seniors and persons with disabilities who rely on Medicare won't change.
The Affordable Care Act was designed to strengthen the Medicare program and ensure that it will continue to provide health security to our seniors for many years to come. Today's announcement -- just like the recent news that the Affordable Care Act will help extend the life of the trust fund by 12 additional years -- is good news for them and their children.
The Affordable Care Act also means less disruption for people with Medicare. Low-income seniors often have to change prescription drug plans every year to find a plan with no premium. Now, more beneficiaries with limited income will be able to keep their plan if they want to while continuing to have a wide range of plans to choose from if they want to change plans.
General information about premiums and benefits for each Part D and Medicare Advantage (MA) plan will be announced in September on www.cms.gov, and more detailed information to help beneficiaries review their plan options will be available in October at www.medicare.gov. In addition, each autumn, the comprehensive Medicare & You handbook and other program updates are mailed directly to beneficiaries' mailboxes with important information about health plans, prescription drug plans, and rights and protections to help people with Medicare, their families and caregivers review coverage options. And more information on how the Affordable Care Act will continue to strengthen and improve Medicare is available at www.HealthCare.gov, a new web portal.
Kathleen Sebelius is Secretary of Health and Human Services