Politics & Government

Medicare checks may garner votes

WASHINGTON - A check from Uncle Sam gets your attention, even if the money doesn't help that much with the bills.

More than 750,000 Medicare recipients with high prescription costs each got a $250 government check this summer, and 3 million-plus more checks are going out to people who land in the program’s coverage gap.

Democrats, running scared in an election year, are trying to overcome older people’s mistrust of the new health care law, which expands coverage for younger generations by cutting Medicare payments to hospitals and insurers.

Will the ploy work?

“It’s like a teaser,” said Virginia Brant, 65, of Glendale, Ariz. “You go to Vegas and they give you the free spin on the wheel. We have had our teaser – the $250 – for us to say, ‘Gee, look at what we have coming.’ ”

Brant spent hers to help pay down a credit card she keeps for medications.

The checks arrive with a letter addressed directly to each beneficiary and signed by Kathleen Sebelius, President Barack Obama’s health secretary.

The money is “to bring you some needed relief on your prescription drug costs the first step toward closing your coverage gap,” Sebelius said. Then comes the pitch: “Stay tuned for more information on how this new law will help make Medicare more financially secure and provide you with higher quality and more affordable health care.”

The $250 is a down payment under the health care law to begin closing the doughnut hole. Next year, the law provides a 50 percent discount on brand name drugs in the gap, and a smaller break on generics. Discounts gradually increase until the gap is closed in 2020.