As Medicare’s open enrollment period nears its end, the federal agency that runs the program has announced that many seniors have saved hundreds of...

As Medicare’s open enrollment period nears its end, the federal agency that runs the program has announced that many seniors have saved hundreds of dollars from provisions of the 2010 health reform law.

More than 2.5 million Medicare recipients have saved more than $1.5 billion on their prescriptions this year, an average of $569 per person, while premiums have remained stable, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said.

In Georgia, 76,012 people with Medicare have saved $39,687,236 – averaging about $522 per person.

The drug savings come from the provision of the new law that placed a 50 percent discount on prescriptions in the “doughnut hole,” the notorious gap of non-coverage between traditional and catastrophic coverage in the “Part D’’ drug benefit.

In addition, more than 24 million people, or about half of those with traditional Medicare, have received a free annual physical or other preventive care benefit at no cost due to a provision in the new law, which is officially known as the Affordable Care Act. In Georgia, 682,342 Medicare beneficiaries have taken advantage of the free preventive coverage, CMS said.

“We’re very pleased with the numbers,’’ Jonathan Blum, Medicare chief, told USA Today. “We found the Part D premiums have also stayed constant, despite predictions that they would go up in 2012.”

On the preventive care benefits, Blum said, “The sentiment [among seniors] is that Medicare is trying to keep them healthy and out of the hospital.”

But Michael Cannon, health policy studies director for the Cato Institute, a think tank, told USA Today that preventive benefits aren’t truly “free,” because taxpayers are paying for them. “There is no such thing as a free lunch,” he said.

Robert Moffit of the Heritage Foundation, a think tank, told the newspaper that the services may help detect diseases early. But it’s too soon to tell whether the overall savings in Medicare will justify the costs of the preventive care, he said.

Blum said it’s too soon to determine whether the wellness exams are actually detecting health problems early enough to prevent hospital visits.

The open enrollment period for people with Medicare to review their drug and health plan coverage ends Wednesday, noted Marilyn Tavenner, the acting CMS administrator. “People with Medicare should review their current plans before midnight December 7, so they can make sure that the plan they will have in 2012 is the best one for their health care needs.”

The call volume has been very heavy at the Atlanta region’s Georgia Cares program, which assists seniors and their family members with information on their Medicare options.

“It’s extremely busy – busier than the previous year,’’ said Lisa Federico, coordinator of the region’s Georgia Cares program.

One reason, she said, is that Georgia’s Medicare rolls are increasing with the aging of baby boomers.

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Andy Miller

Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News

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