A House of Delegates bill aimed at helping the poor elderly pay for prescription drugs has received mixed reviews as to whether it will actually be a benefit.
Del. Harvey Morgan (R-98th) has proposed House Bill 104, Prescription Drug Payment Assistance Program, which if passed will allow eligible seniors and the disabled who are not covered by the Medicare supplement policy or ineligible for the Medicaid prescription benefits to receive prescriptions at a discounted rate.
"So many people, mainly elderly people, are taking one or more prescription drugs which are very expensive. They need the medication, but they can't afford it," Morgan said. "They need food on the table, and they are not taking their medications."
To be eligible, a person must be at least 65 and must have an income at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level or have prescription-drug expenses that exceed 40 percent of his annual income.
“Certainly we see every day seniors who need help paying their medication, and any help that they can get to make the cost less expensive would be very helpful,” said Marilyn Huddell, from the Loudoun County Area Agency on Aging.
She said that based on the 2000 census, there are 13,297 citizens who are 60 or older in the county, and an estimated 20 percent fall under the poverty level according to a 1990 census. Numbers for 2001 have not yet been determined.
The same census reports there are 81,798 people 65 years old or older living in Fairfax County and of that number, approximately 3,600 are at or below the poverty level.
“This would be very badly needed,” said Terry Lynch, director of the Arlington Agency on Aging. Morgan’s bill joins others in the Assembly this year, differing in the details, but not in the results, Lynch said. “None are going to pass this year,” thanks to state revenue gaps, she said.
Not because there’s no need. Numbers in the 2000 census showed a population of 15,179 people age 60 or older living in Arlington, 8 percent of the county’s population. Lynch didn’t have census data linking age and income yet, but she knew many of the county’s elderly needed help on drug bills. “I know people on my unit make calls on behalf of people all the time,” she said.
Lynch looked for one bright spot coming out of Richmond, passage of a joint Assembly committee to analyze the need for elderly prescription help, with action in a future session. Until then, she said, there will still be “lots of older people who cannot afford their prescriptions.”
<bt>The federal poverty level is calculated based on the number of people per household, the average poverty threshold and the price inflation as calculated by the U.S. Department of Labor. In order to be considered at the 150-percent poverty level benchmark, a one-person-household's annual income must be $12,885 or less. For a four-person household, the annual income level is no more than $26,475.
Qualified seniors under the bill would pay a copayment for each prescription, which in general will not exceed 25 percent of the cost, but not less than five dollars. Money to pay the claims to the pharmacies will come from the newly established Prescription Assistance Fund, which is to be financed by 10 percent of the proceeds received by the commonwealth under the Master Tobacco Settlement Agreement and any other available federal funds. There will be a $20 annual enrollment fee for the program.
Morgan said in the last 10 years, the number of prescriptions being filled has almost doubled, particularly for the elderly. The cost of prescriptions has also escalated substantially, making it hard for some people to be able to afford their medicine.
While the proposed bill will benefit seniors who have high prescription bills totaling 40 percent of their income, eligible seniors cannot spend more than $2,500 per year on their prescription drugs, said Karen Rarog, the AARP's advocacy representative to the House of Delegates.
"This is not a realistic number, considering they would be spending 40 percent of their income," Rarog said. "But that is something we have to work on."
The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions.
Jennifer Lesinski contributed to this story.