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10/26/2000

States Offer Some Help with Seniors' Drugs

Kate Traynor

Many states—23 as of this fall—have either created programs to help seniors and other qualified residents pay for prescription drugs or passed laws establishing programs in the near future.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, eligibility for most of these state-managed prescription-drug programs is restricted to low-income residents age 65 and older. Some states also offer prescription-drug services to disabled residents. A few states will pay only for maintenance drugs or drugs used to treat specific conditions.

Residents' participation in state-administered prescription-drug programs, according to a recent General Accounting Office (GAO) report, is generally low. GAO stated that some state residents do not know they qualify for the programs, and others choose not to enroll because of a perceived stigma associated with public assistance programs.

Last year only three states—Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey—served more than 100,000 assistance-program enrollees. Wyoming’s Minimum Medical Program, which pays for just three prescriptions per month, served an average of 491 residents each month in 1999.

Over 1.3 million California residents may be eligible for a state-run prescription-drug program that took effect in February. California’s program restricts benefits to residents age 65 and older but has no income limit for eligibility.

Next January, unless a lawsuit filed by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America derails the plan, 325,000 Maine residents of all ages will qualify for the new Maine Rx Program.

According the GAO report, most state prescription-drug programs in 1999 used general state revenue to fund operations. Massachusetts and Vermont used cigarette taxes to fund their programs, and Delaware funded its program with money from a tobacco-lawsuit settlement. Vermont also received federal money for a prescription program through a Medicaid waiver.

GAO reported that all states last year used manufacturers’ rebates to help compensate for costs associated with prescription-drug programs. Other ways to offset costs included the use of copayments, coinsurance, and enrollment fees.

For more information about state-run prescription-drug benefit plans, go to the National Conference of State Legislatures Web site (click on "Public User").