Seniors continue to reap health benefits under Affordable Care Act

Millions of seniors have taken advantage of cheaper medication, free preventive health services and other benefits offered to them under health care reform, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

On Thursday, the department announced that since January, more than 17 million people with Medicare have taken advantage of a provision allowing them to use preventive services — such as colonoscopies — without a co-pay.

Also, 900,000 Medicare beneficiaries who hit the so-called “doughnut hole” — the coverage gap at which Medicare recipients have to pay out-of-pocket for prescription drugs — have received a 50 percent discount on their medication, saving them a total of more than $461 million.

The Health and Human Services Department also reported average Medicare prescription drug premiums will not increase in 2012 and will actually dip slightly. Next year, the cost of the average Medicare prescription drug premium will be $30. The average premium this year is $30.76.

In Connecticut, about 9,600 seniors saved a total of about $5.2 million on prescription costs and about 239,000 people on Medicare took advantage of free preventive services. Also, about 1.1 million people with Medicare nationwide, and about 32,000 in Connecticut, have received a free annual wellness visit provided under health reform.

Brenda Kelley, state director of AARP Connecticut, said Thursday’s announcement is proof of the major role the Affordable Care Act is playing in improving care for seniors.

“Granted, we have a long way to go to get (health reform) fully implemented, but we are making progress,” she said. “People are seeing changes in their health care and in their pocketbooks.”

The only announcement Kelley was skeptical about was the expected drop in Medicare prescription premiums in 2012. An average of $30 “may be a little low” based on some of the numbers she’s seen so far.

But overall, Kelley said, this is good news for seniors. The discount for those in the doughnut hole is “huge,” she said, and she admits to being one of the Medicare who have taken advantage of the free preventive services.

Recently, Kelley said, she had a free wellness visit and “I’ve never had such a good physical. It was really nice to go in and see this happen in your own life.”

Dr. Vivian Argento, a physician at Bridgeport Hospital‘s Center for Geriatrics, said she knows of a number of patients who have gotten free preventive services as a result of health reform.

“I think in the short-term, it is improving access to care for many of our seniors,” Argento said.


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