'Doughnut hole' closing gradually

Editor, the Advocate:

Starting June 10, as a result of the new health care law, hearing "the check is in the mail" might be no joke.

Many older Americans will receive a one-time $250 check, the first step in the gradual closing of the "doughnut hole" - the expensive coverage gap in the Medicare prescription drug program. Checks will be mailed automatically as seniors become eligible for them throughout 2010.

There's no need to apply for the rebate, sign anything or pay a fee to have it processed. Medicare tracks your drug costs for you. If you're on Medicare, things will get even better next year, when you'll be eligible for a 50 percent discount on any brand-name drug you buy while in "the gap."

Over the next 10 years, you'll gradually receive more discounts until the gap closes completely in 2020. For now, though, be wary of anyone who says they can get your check more quickly in exchange for a fee. Report suspected scams to Medicare by calling 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). For information on when you might reach the coverage gap and ideas on saving money on drugs covered by Medicare, visit AARP's easy-to-use doughnut hole calculator at www.aarp.org/doughnuthole.

Ollie Besteiro, President, AARP Texas, Austin