Kirsten McIntyre, News 9
OKLAHOMA CITY -- There are some big changes this year for the half a million Oklahomans on Medicare, and one change has to do with the amount of money spent on prescriptions.
Every year, many Part D beneficiaries find themselves in what's known as the "doughnut hole"-- they must still pay their premiums but get no prescription drug coverage, but with the passage of the new health care law, seniors are now getting some relief.
Every day, 79-year-old Hank Harvey takes a handful of drugs. He said at his age, it's a matter of surviving another day.
"That's what you do when you get to my age bracket, you take these prescription drugs just to stay alive, and I don't feel a person who wants to live a long-- that's all of us-- should be penalized for being old. That's what they're doing," Harvey said.
Last year, Harvey spent about six months in the "doughnut hole." He was covered by Medicare until he spent around $2,800, but until he reached the catastrophic level of about $4,500, he was left with no benefits.
"That's money I can't use for anything else-- clothes, food, car repairs. It just takes it right out of your pocket because you have to have that to stay alive. That's your first priority," Harvey said.
Yet with the passage of Washington's new health care law, discounts are now available. This year, those in the coverage gap will get a 50 percent discount on name brand drugs and a 7 percent discount on generic drugs. It's a bit of break for those living on a fix income.
"That makes people be able to take the brand name their doctor prescribed without going broke or having to give up food, whatever you have to do take the medication your doctor orders," said Marjorie Lyons, AARP Oklahoma Volunteer president.
Harvey said he expects to fall into the doughnut hole again this year but said at least it won't be as painful a pill to swallow.
"I'm lucky I have a good pension and also social security and I can see where people who don't have a pension are up the creek because you have to pay everything in that doughnut hole," Harvey said.
Under the new health care law, the doughnut hole will gradually close by 2020.
There are also big changes when it comes to getting yearly wellness exams and preventative screenings are now free, which wasn't the case before.