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It looks like the feds are going to let our seniors down again

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

Posted on June 15, 2001:

Senator Dyson Thereís a lot of talk out of Washington about how Congress has passed two of President Bushís main initiatives -- his tax cut and education bill.

And the president and Congress are getting high marks for their bi-partisanship in passing these bills. But what perturbs me is that once again, prescription drug coverage for seniors, seems to be low on the presidentís and Congressís list of priorities. During his campaign, President Bush consistently touted the need for senior prescription drug coverage. But since he won the White House, the president has yet to address this growing problem. And Congress hasnít seemed too eager to push him on this issue either.

When my bill to help defray costs for senior prescription drug coverage for seniors passed the 2000 General Assembly Session, it was meant to be short-term relief. In fact, it was called the Short-Term Prescription Drug Subsidy Plan. The billís life extended only to June 30, 2002. The assumption was that by then, Congress would pass a bill that provided for prescription drug coverage for our seniors. Thatís because that was one of the main issues Congress and the two presidential candidates were saying was a priority at the time. I made the mistake of believing them. These guys are smart. They know how to get elected. They know seniors are the most dependable voters. They turn out in droves.

The Short-Term Prescription Drug Subsidy Plan was a costly one, but it was the right thing to do. Our seniors needed help. But once various committees got their hands on my bill, it turned out to be a skeleton of the original legislation I had wanted. Still, it did provide some relief to seniors in rural counties including Calvert, Charles and St. Maryís counties.

In 1999 and 2000, I introduced a short-term prescription drug coverage bill that would provide seniors who live in rural areas adequate prescription drug coverage. The reason I had these bills drafted was because rural seniors were dropped from most of their insurance companies because of rising costs at the end of 1999. They were faced with massive bills for drugs.

The Senate Finance Committee didnít give my bill a chance in 1999 despite warnings from experts that this problem would eventually be a statewide program. The committee, made up of mostly Senators from urban counties, made it clear that my bill wasnít going anywhere and turned down the bill.

But I came back in 2000 and introduced similar legislation. And once again the Finance Committee indicated its intentions to kill the bill once again. But by then, urban area seniors were being charged more for prescription drugs then they had in the past. My bill was resurrected despite some serious alterations. As I said, I wasnít pleased with the changes, but it did provide roughly $600 relief to seniors who chose to join the program.

This past year, ironically, the chairman of the Finance Committee was a co-sponsor and major floor leader to extend the life of the Short-Term Prescription Drug Subsidy Plan and to make it stronger.

Under this new law, people who receive Medicare and reside throughout Maryland with incomes up to $26,000, or $35,000 for a couple who have no prescription drug benefits are eligible for the program.

Eligible seniors can receive up to $1,000 per year in prescription drug benefits. The monthly premium is $10 without a deductible. The expenses include co-pays that may vary depending on whether the programís enrollee is purchasing generic, preferred or no-preferred prescription drugs.

The Short-Term Prescription Drug Subsidy Plan was also extended to June 30, 2003 or on the date the federal government develops a senior prescription drug plan. But Iím afraid the feds are ignoring the situation while allowing states like Maryland to pay for a program that is simply too expensive to fund over a long period of time. Iím pleased the program was extended another year, but Iím also deeply concerned. We as a state cannot continue to pay for this program over an extended period of time. We simply donít have the money to pay for it. The federal government does.

But as long as the states keep picking up the tab, the feds can continue to delay implementing a comprehensive program that the Democrats and Republicans in Congress and President Bush promised would be a high priority.

Instead, I fear they are looking at Maryland and 25 other states that have authorized some type of senior prescription drug coverage program and making us carry a financial burden we simply cannot afford.

Our seniors will be facing a major medical crisis if Congress and President Bush do not come up with a comprehensive prescription drug coverage plan for our seniors. If they do not, it will be unconscionable.

If you need more information about this program or want to enroll, call your local Senior Assistance Offices. In Calvert, call (410) 535-4606; in Charles the number is (301) 934-0118 and in St. Maryís, contact (301) 475-4444.

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

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