Working to help seniors with prescription costs

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 24, 2002

A politician was asked to make remarks at a groundbreaking ceremony for a new wing on a mental institution. In order to boost the crowd for this important speaker, the director of the mental hospital gathered up all of the patients and had them standing toward the rear of the crowd gathered for the occasion.

The politician, thinking he would set the stage for some brief, but important remarks, opened with the question, &uot;Why are we all here?&uot; To his surprise, a person in the back of the crowd raised their hand and answered the question by stating, &uot;We are all here, because we are not all there.&uot;

This little story has nothing to do with my topic today, but I thought it might get your attention and cause you to read the column.

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On second thought, I probably could take that story and relate it very appropriately to state government and how it sometimes operates. But I will save that subject until a later time.

My subject today is prescription drugs for seniors. Unless one has their head buried in the sand, each of us knows about the spiraling cost of prescription drugs.

In particular this has hurt our seniors more than any other group of citizens. Recognizing this, the Alabama Senate approved a $1.5 million appropriation through the general fund budget that will be used to implement a statewide program to aid senior citizens in receiving free and reduced-cost drugs from the pharmaceutical companies.

Another bill we passed allows state agencies to combine their purchasing power and bulk-purchase prescription drugs.

An even further bill signed into law requires patients covered by PEEHIP or the State Employees Insurance Board to receive generic drugs unless the doctor requests the brand in writing. All of these bills are designed to cut healthcare costs and save taxpayer and state dollars.

This past week drug makers took two significant actions aimed at assisting senior citizens. Glaxo-Smith-Kline donated $30,000 to the Alabama Department of Senior Services to buy 13 laptop computers and 13 printers to use in &uot;SenioRX: Partnership for Medication Access.&uot;

The program is intended to help senior citizens get discounts offered by pharmaceutical companies. The discounts are generally available to those over 60 who earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level and who are not covered by Medicaid or private insurance. Uninsured seniors with slightly higher incomes could be eligible for some discounts.

There are 13 councils that serve senior citizens around the state n each will hire a coordinator for the statewide program to assist seniors with their drug needs. These coordinators will help identify what discounts can be gotten and they will aid seniors in filling out and processing necessary applications. This program is expected to be fully implemented by October 1.

In addition to this program, several drug companies have gone together and created the Together RX card, a single, free and easy to use card that will provide cost savings on a broad range of prescriptions for qualified Medicaid beneficiaries with no other public or private prescription coverage.

This group of drug companies is working through the National Council on the Aging to develop an enrollment process and individuals who have extremely limited income may qualify for further savings, and in some cases, free medicines.

In the meantime, Congress is considering broadbased legislation to provide prescription drug coverage through Medicare, the government health insurance for the elderly. I think it is just a matter of time before a comprehensive Medicare prescription drug benefit becomes available to all Medicare beneficiaries.

Our senior population continues to grow each year, and there will be an increasing demand for drugs. We have also seen an explosion of new drugs in recent years, which have attacked some high profile diseases such as cancer and diabetes. The drug companies themselves can generate much of the help, but legislation will also play a part in finding solutions to the increasing cost and demands. The Alabama Legislature is, in my opinion, prepared to do their part for our citizens in need.

Remember, &uot;I’ll go with you or I’ll go for you&uot; to help you solve any problem related to state government. You can contact me at P O Box 225, Luverne, Alabama 36049.