08/31/2010 09:20 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Million Seniors Receive $250 Medicare Checks

More than a million Medicare beneficiaries have been issued $250 checks to help with prescription drugs costs, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday. The legislation aims to close the "doughnut hole" coverage gap, in which seniors have to pay the full cost of prescription drugs once they reach a certain level of expense.

"Many seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare face extraordinary prescription drug costs, and too often stop following the drug regimens that their doctors have recommended as a result," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. "These checks will make a difference in helping seniors continue to get the medications they need, and are one of many ways that the Affordable Care Act is helping seniors."

Meanwhile House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is using the benchmark to underscore the Democratic agenda, adding that Congressional Republicans voted to repeal the law, calling instead for a voucher system.

"[Seniors] are receiving these benefits because of the health care law Congress passed to strengthen Medicare, lower costs for our seniors, and give seniors more control over their medical care," Pelosi said in a statement Monday.

"Congressional Republicans have voted to repeal this law, and undercut Medicare by making it a voucher system. While Democrats are closing the donut hole and making Medicare fiscally sound for decades to come, Republicans are promising they will go back to the days of higher drug costs, shrinking benefits, and insecurity for our seniors. We will not go back to the failed Bush agenda that placed insurance industry profits ahead of care for our seniors."

The rebate checks come as the first step in a larger effort to close the gap in Medicare prescription drug coverage. Starting in January, beneficiaries will begin receiving a 50-percent discount on brand name drugs, and eventually the gap in coverage will be closed completely.

The first checks to 80,000 people were first mailed in June of 2010. An estimated 4 million seniors will receive rebate checks over the next several months.