Rep. Gingrey Rails Against Imaginary Federal Takeover Of Medicare Donut Hole

February 18, 2011 12:38 pm ET — Kate Conway

On the House floor this morning, an angry Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) argued in favor of an amendment depriving the Affordable Care Act of funding, declaring that "Obamacare" was "the worst piece of legislation passed in the history of this Congress" and "would probably [be] better called Patient Pain and Non-Affordable Care Act."

Clever — except, as Gingrey's colleague Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) reminded the chamber, labeling a law that helps millions of Americans gain access to care the "worst piece of legislation" is a remarkable bit of hyperbole. "What about the fugitive slave laws?" said Lee. "How dare anyone suggest that this is the worst bill when we give opportunity to all Americans."

Gingrey's attempt at substantive criticism was even less compelling than his name-calling. Oddly enough, he elected to attack a successful and popular provision of the law that closes the Medicare "donut hole" because "there are other ways to solve the donut hole problem than having the federal government take it over."

GINGREY: Talk about things like who's going to solve the problem of the donut hole as the gentlelady from California just said. Well I'll tell you who solved it. Big Pharma solved it when the president and the Democratic majority in the last Congress broke their arm and made them agree to cut their prices in half for brand-name drugs. So there are other ways to solve the donut hole problem than having the federal government take it over lock stock and barrel.  


The donut hole is a gap in Medicare drug coverage that obliges seniors whose prescriptions cost more than $2,800 per year to pay out-of-pocket for the entire cost of the drugs they need over that threshold (until they reach $4,550). Since Medicare is already administered by the federal government, Gingrey's allegation that the government is 'taking over' the donut hole makes absolutely no sense.

Compelling pharmaceutical companies to reduce their brand name drug prices does not, as Gingrey suggested, close the donut hole. It means that some seniors who rely on brand-name prescriptions will take longer to reach the $2,800 threshold, but it doesn't relieve the people who do get there of their obligation to pay inordinate out-of-pocket costs. And since the donut hole exists solely because it's written into federal legislation, there is literally is no other way to solve it than fixing that federal legislation, which is exactly what the Affordable Care Act does.