JEFFERSON CITY — Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell on Monday called for a coalition of legislators and advocacy groups to help extend funding for the Senior Rx program. Without more money, tens of thousands of seniors would be left without prescription drug coverage effective Dec. 13, 2005.
Maxwell was speaking at a meeting of the Senior Rx Commission.
The state’s Senior Rx program was established in a 2001 special legislative session. It offers low-income seniors prescription coverage after they meet a $250 or $500 deductible.
An estimated 50,000 Missouri seniors meet the eligibility criteria, yet only a third are actually enrolled in the plan. About 20 other states have similar programs in place. The funding for Missouri’s program is for four years, ending in 2005.
“The leadership of the Missouri House doesn’t recognize this as a reality,” Maxwell, a Democrat, said at the meeting. “But there are senior citizens who are having to choose between heat bills and food and prescription drugs.”
A Senate bill co-sponsored last year by Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, and former Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, sought to extend appropriations for the Missouri program and coordinate its involvement with the Medicare-reform package approved by President Bush last year.
Although the proposal enjoyed unanimous bipartisan support in the Senate, the bill was stalled in the House until the end of the session.
“We have an obligation to this program,” Maxwell said. “It was extremely disappointing when the Senate bill couldn’t find time to be debated in the Missouri House.”
Commission member Jim Mathewson, a Senate Democrat from Sedalia, urged Maxwell to consider a special legislative session to compensate for the inaction in the House. “It seems they really dropped the ball on this issue,” Mathewson said.
Minnie Fortson, 79, has used Senior Rx since its beginning and can’t imagine what she’ll do without it.
Fortson wasn’t aware that the program is in jeopardy until told by a reporter. Even though Senior Rx won’t cover her hernia or osteoporosis medications, she says it’s an integral part of her tight budget.
Maxwell, who serves as chairman of the Senior Rx Commission, called for a coalition of senior activists, AARP, the Silver Haired Legislature, current members of Congress and political candidates to rally around a legislative revival of the drug program by December.
Charisse Pappas, outreach coordinator for the Senior Rx, said that although many seniors qualify, the program is ill-equipped to provide a full year of prescription coverage.
She added that the agency has only one outreach event planned, in contrast to the 80 events scheduled this time last year.
Commission member Dr. Steven Zweig of Columbia is concerned that seniors who file during the 2005 enrollment period early next year will lose that coverage before year’s end.
“I will still recommend that they sign up,” he said, adding that his patients would still reap significant benefits from five-and-a-half months of coverage.
Zweig is also concerned about the integration of the new federal Medicare prescription plan due to take effect in 2006. In accordance with the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, all seniors qualify for coverage if their annual drug spending is below $2,250 or above $5,100.
In Missouri, this gap in coverage has come to be knows as the “doughnut hole.”
The bill defeated last year called for the Senior Rx program to cover 75 percent of the doughnut hole beginning in 2006.
Pappas encouraged seniors and concerned citizens to call the Senior Rx office toll free at 866-256-3937 to help efforts to preserve the program.