Rebates for drug 'doughnut hole'

WASHINGTON - Senior citizens who hit the so-called doughnut hole in Medicare's prescription-drug benefit will begin getting $250 rebate checks in two weeks, the administration said Thursday.

The rebates, designed in part to bolster support for the still-controversial new health-care law, are the first step in a decade-long phaseout of the unpopular gap in Medicare Part D drug coverage.

Seniors now enrolled in a Part D plan pay 25 percent of the cost of their prescriptions until the total bill reaches $2,830. Enrollees must then pay the full cost until their total out-of-pocket spending reaches $4,550. Catastrophic coverage then kicks in, and enrollees pay 5 percent of drug costs for the rest of the year.

Health and Human Services officials said the first 80,000 seniors who hit the coverage gap would be sent checks June 10, five days ahead of a deadline included in the law. Checks will then go out monthly until the end of the year as more seniors fall into the gap. Starting in 2011, the rebate will be replaced by a discount. - Los Angeles Times

2 GOP senators give Kagan boost

WASHINGTON - Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan got a boost from potential GOP supporters Thursday, as two Republican senators who will vote on her confirmation both said her lack of experience as a judge was no obstacle to elevating her.

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) and George S. LeMieux (R., Fla.) made their comments a day after conservative Justice Antonin Scalia undercut Republican criticism of Kagan's lack of a judicial background. Scalia's remark, during a lecture Wednesday, "helps" Kagan, said Graham, a member of the Judiciary Committee, which will hold her confirmation hearings next month.

LeMieux, who met with Kagan on Thursday, said he did not find her judicial inexperience "in any way a prohibition to her service." He called her intelligent, articulate, and "refreshingly forthcoming" on questions he posed. Both he and Graham said it was too early to tell whether they would vote to confirm her. - AP

Smoker wins suit against Reynolds

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - A Connecticut smoker who developed larynx cancer won $8 million in a lawsuit against a tobacco company, the first such jury verdict in New England, her attorney said Thursday.

David Golub, attorney for Barbara Izzarelli of Norwich, said a federal jury made the award late Wednesday against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. after a two-week trial. He said a judge would decide additional punitive damages next month.

David Howard, spokesman for R.J. Reynolds, said the company planned to appeal.

Izzarelli, 49, who smoked Salem cigarettes for more than 25 years, underwent surgery at 36 that resulted in the removal of her larynx. She must breathe through a hole in her throat and has no sense of smell, Golub said. "I'm ecstatic," Izzarelli said. - AP

Elsewhere:

Gary Coleman, the former child TV star, was in critical condition Thursday near his Utah home, a hospital spokeswoman in Provo said. She said she could not release any other details. Coleman, 42, has had at least two kidney transplants and heart surgery.