Companies work to relieve beneficiaries of drug benefit's "doughnut hole"

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Medicare beneficiaries might get a break from the so-called "doughnut hole" in the drug benefit, thanks to seven pharmaceutical companies.

The companies are working on a plan to provide discounted drugs to beneficiaries whose drug costs fall into the gap in coverage under the new benefit. The doughnut hole represents drug costs between $2,250 and $5,100 in total spending, or between $750 and $3,600 in out-of-pocket costs. Beneficiaries have to pay these costs.

The companies hope to launch the Bridge Rx program in May with discounts of at least 50% on their drugs when beneficiaries reach the doughnut hole. The program would have copayments of at least 15%. Beneficiaries with annual incomes of between $14,000 and $18,620 would qualify for the program.

About 6.9 million Medicare beneficiaries are expected to reach the doughnut hole in 2006.