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Seniors Stop Taking Heart Drugs In Medicare 'Donut Hole'
Date:4/18/2012

By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, April 17 (HealthDay News) -- When Medicare stops paying for seniors' medications after they enter the Part D "donut hole," the seniors often go without the drugs, even if the medications are essential for heart health, new research shows.

"We looked at health outcomes within the coverage gap, which averaged about three and half months during a year. While we didn't find short-term adverse cardiovascular events during that time, it's really unclear what this discontinuation would do in the long-term. And, we don't know if they restart the drugs at the beginning of the year when their coverage resets, or if they remain off them," said study author Jennifer Polinski, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and an instructor of epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

Polinski's study included more than 120,000 Medicare beneficiaries with cardiovascular conditions who were receiving drug benefits in 2006 and 2007. During that time, those seniors who reached a total of $2,250 in spending on prescription drugs in 2006 or $2,400 in 2007 lost further drug coverage until they reached the amount required for catastrophic care coverage ($3,600 in 2006 and $3,850 in 2007). This coverage gap is commonly referred to as the Medicare Part D "donut hole."

Most of these seniors had high blood pressure, and about one-third had congestive heart failure.

For their research, Polinski's team compared almost 4,000 of these seniors who lost coverage and had no additional coverage to a matched group of almost 4,000 seniors who lost coverage, but had additional financial assistance (such as additional insurance) to help pay for drug costs.

The group who had no additional financial assistance was 57 percent more likely to stop taking the drugs altogether when they reached the initial Medicare limit, according to the study. Neither group was likely to s
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