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For the new study, researchers analyzed nondrug Medicare spending for about 6,000 seniors from 2004 through 2007.
The Medicare drug benefit started in January 2006. Before then, about 2,500 of the seniors in the study reported having generous drug coverage, which many bought as supplemental insurance. About 3,500 reported having limited or no drug coverage.
By comparing spending trends before and after 2006, the researchers were able to calculate any nondrug savings.
Previous studies show Medicare Part D increased use of antibiotics and drugs for diabetes, high blood pressure, depression and other chronic conditions.
The nation's 1-year-old health care law is gradually closing the Medicare drug coverage gap, the "doughnut hole," which also should keep seniors out of hospitals, McWilliams said.
But another view on the doughnut hole came from Joseph Antos, a health policy expert at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute. Antos said the doughnut hole "turned out to be a very good idea" because it encourages seniors to use cheaper generics instead of more expensive brand-name drugs.
"It's disastrous policy to whittle away at the doughnut hole," Antos said. "If we see generic usage drop, that means the program is going to cost more."
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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