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Get the whole picture about the doughnut hole:

Posted Thursday, July 14, 2011, at 3:37 PM

How to keep prescription drug costs down

You may ask, "What is the Medicare Part D doughnut hole?"

First, it helps to understand a bit about Medicare. Medicare, the federal health insurance program for people 65 and older and for some younger persons with disabilities, offers coverage to help people pay for their prescription drugs. This insurance coverage is known as Medicare Part D.

The "doughnut hole" refers to the gap in the Medicare Part D drug benefit where your coverage stops and you have to pay for your prescription drugs out of pocket. Before the healthcare law was enacted, you paid the full price for your drugs when you fell into the doughnut hole.

Help for today

Today, because of the healthcare law, there is some help to offset your prescription drug costs if you are in Medicare. If you reach the doughnut hole in 2011, you will receive a 50 percent discount on brand-name prescription drugs and a 7 percent discount on generic prescription drugs. Your discounts may be different depending on the type of Part D plan you are enrolled in.

In 2011, people are already getting help. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, since January almost 50,000 people have benefited from the 50 percent discount on brand name drugs. These discounts will keep growing until 2020 when the doughnut hole disappears.

What you can do to lower your costs

In the meantime, do not wait until you fall into the doughnut hole to save money. Explore your options today.

* Talk to your doctor. Ask if there are any lower cost drugs that can treat your health condition. Find out what lifestyle changes could help reduce your medication needs.

*If you get your prescriptions through Medicare, you can use AARP's online Doughnut Hole Calculator at www.aarp.org/doughnuthole to find ways to delay falling into the doughnut hole. The calculator provides you with a list of lower cost medications. Bring your list to your doctor's appointment.

*If you are not on Medicare, use the Drug Savings Tool, www.aarp.org/drugsavings. It provides you Consumer Reports data about drugs, both brand and generic, that may be just as safe and as effective for treating your condition. And if that is the case, you may also be able to save money as well.

These three options may provide you with valuable savings. For up-to-date information on the health care law, including how you can save on prescription drug costs, visit www.aarp.org/getthefacts.

~Blog written by Frank Bailey, director of health at AARP. Bailey leads the association's member and consumer health education and outreach program, which includes work on issues such as Medicare, prescription drug affordability, long term care, prevention and wellness, wise use of medications and the new healthcare law (the Affordable Care Act).

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AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with a membership that helps people age 50 and over have independence, choice and control in ways that are beneficial and affordable to them and society as a whole, ways that help people 50 and over improve their lives. Since 1958, AARP has been leading a revolution in the way people view and live life.