Whether or not they know it, thousands of Utahns on Medicare have directly benefited from federal health reform.
The first half of this year alone, 6,282 seniors and people with disabilities saved $4.1Â million on prescription drugs, new federal data show.
The savings accrue through rebates and discounts on brand name and generic drugs for those who have fallen into Medicare's prescription drug coverage gap, or "doughnut hole."
After seniors and their insurance plans have spent a certain amount on covered drugs $2,930 in 2012 beneficiaries fall into the coverage hole. They must pay the full cost of their drugs out of pocket until they hit an annual limit $4,700 in 2012. At that point, plans start helping pay for covered drugs again.
The total amount saved by Utahns as they paid for their drugs since 2011: $22.7 million, a yearly average of $654 per patient.
The rebates and discounts will continue until 2020, when the doughnut hole is completely closed, said Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Acting Administrator Marilyn Tavenner in a news release.
Some conservative groups oppose closing the gap, saying it could raise drug prices for everyone and hike premiums for Medicare patients.
To date, there's no evidence of that, said Laura Polacheck, a spokeswoman for Utah's AARP.
"Drug companies benefit from the closure because a lot of people now have a drug benefit who might not have been able to afford medicine before," she said.
At least this part of the Affordable Care Act has few detractors among consumers.
"I don't take enough medicine to fall into the doughnut hole," said 80-year-old Maria Young from Salt Lake City. "But it never made sense to me. It seems to cruel to deny higher-cost people their prescriptions when those are the people who need medicine the most."