Washington A check from Uncle Sam gets your attention, even if the money doesn’t help that much with the bills.
More than 750,000 Medicare recipients with high prescription costs each got a $250 government check this summer, and 3 million-plus more checks are going out to people who land in the program’s anxiety-inducing coverage gap.
Democrats, running scared in an election year, are trying to overcome older people’s mistrust of the new health care law, which expands coverage for younger generations by cutting Medicare payments to hospitals and insurers.
Will the ploy work?
“It’s like a teaser,” says Virginia Brant, 65, of Glendale, Ariz. “You go to Vegas and they give you the free spin on the wheel. We have had our teaser — the $250 — for us to say, ‘Gee, look at what we have coming.”’
Brant spent hers to help pay down a credit card she keeps for medications.
The checks arrive with a letter addressed directly to each beneficiary and signed by Kathleen Sebelius, President Barack Obama’s health secretary.
The money is “to bring you some needed relief on your prescription drug costs ... the first step toward closing your coverage gap,” Sebelius says. Then comes the pitch: “Stay tuned for more information ... on how this new law will help make Medicare more financially secure and provide you with higher quality and more affordable health care.”
The Obama administration and Democrats in Congress are paying close attention to seniors.
Actor Andy Griffith — TV’s sheriff of Mayberry — stars in a reassuring ad about the health care law. Officially keyed to Medicare’s new benefit year, it’s running nationwide at taxpayer expense. Democratic lawmakers, in their home districts for August, are holding information sessions for older people about the law, along with “birthday parties” for Social Security, which turned 75.
Behind the hoopla, the reality is modest. The $250 check, for example, is just a fraction of what many people in the prescription coverage gap have to pay.
The gap starts after Medicare beneficiaries and their insurance plan have spent $2,830 on medications. Once total spending reaches $6,440, Medicare’s catastrophic coverage kicks in, and people pay only a small amount.
That means the “doughnut hole” is $3,610 this year. Medicare beneficiaries pay full freight. A previous Congress, led by Republicans, came up with the idea to control costs. It’s never been popular.
Anna Bollerman, a retired real estate agent from Bayville, N.J., said her check barely made a dent, but it still mattered.
“Two-hundred-and-fifty dollars looks pretty good when you’re almost broke,” said Bollerman, 81. A doubter on the health care law, she said she was surprised to get her check quickly and efficiently.
“It feels better,” said Bollerman. “At least it indicates that they are listening, and they are trying to get it working.”