By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — It's an annual ordeal for many seniors living on a budget.
Medicare's coverage gap for prescription drugs — $3,610 next year — has steadily gotten bigger since the benefit's inception. But if Democrats have their way on health care overhaul, the dreaded "doughnut hole" will shrink by $500 right away and go away altogether by 2019.
With the elderly worried that Medicare cuts in the health care bill will put the quality of their own care in jeopardy, Democrats belatedly are scrambling to convince them otherwise. Lawmakers are eager to make amends with a pivotal political constituency ahead of next year's midterm elections.
Senate Democratic leaders this week joined their House counterparts in vowing to close the coverage gap if President Barack Obama's health care remake passes.
"I personally am committed to fully closing the doughnut hole once and for all," Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said on the Senate floor. "The legislation we will send to President Obama for signature will make good on his promise, and ours, to forever end this indefensible injustice for America's seniors."Lawmakers say they expect the pharmaceutical industry to pick up the cost, adding at least $20 billion more to the $80 billion the companies have pledged toward the overhaul. Drug makers have separately offered a 50 percent discount on brand name drugs in the coverage gap, already incorporated in the legislation.
Several senators said the expectation that the industry would ante up more was a factor this week when the Senate killed an effort to allow consumer access to low-cost prescriptions from abroad. Following the Obama administration's lead, more than a dozen Democrats who previously had backed drug imports switched sides on the vote.
Whether the gambit will work with seniors is another matter.