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New prescription program is easy pill to take for seniors

Maryland legislators yesterday partnered with CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield in unveiling a new, $20 million program providing prescription drug assistance for the state’s lower income seniors.


Sen. Thomas Bromwell, D-Baltimore City/Baltimore County, Del. Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, and CareFirst officials yesterday morning picked Parkville Senior Center to kick off their efforts to get the word out to seniors about the new plan.The plan represents Maryland’s “very innovative” approach to the problem of high drug prices, while “some states out there are sitting back and waiting” for the federal government to step in, said Bromwell.Under the new program, for a $10 monthly premium, seniors receive $1,000 of prescription drug benefits for each year of the two-year Senior Short-Term Rx Plan.The program is funded primarily from rate discounts granted to CareFirst, Aetna U.S. Healthcare and Mid-Atlantic Medical Services Inc. (MAMSI), with $13 million coming from CareFirst, also the program’s administrator.To qualify for the program, seniors over 65 years of age must qualify for Medicare Part A, not have prescription drug coverage through another program and have an income of no more than 300 percent of the federal poverty level.For a household of two, 300 percent of the federal poverty level would be $34,830.Bromwell said part of the program’s uniqueness is its coverage of not only the poorest seniors. “So often,” he said, “we find ourselves helping a certain segment of the senior population” and excluding others. “There are people here who have worked all their lives, who if they have to buy prescription drugs [on their own], are going to hit the poverty level.”The new program replaces the Senior Rural Pharmacy Program enacted last year, in which about 1,600 seniors in 17 rural counties currently participate.The program’s leaders hope to have 30,000 enrollees by January 1. The new plan is a temporary fix for the problem while the state awaits federal intervention, officials said.“We hope to get a waiver from the federal government that will reduce the cost [of drugs] for seniors by one-third,” said Busch.“The ultimate solution to this has to be at the federal level,” said CareFirst Executive Vice President and General Counsel John A. Picciotto. “I feel confident this will happen.” Legislators, Baltimore County officials and CareFirst are working together to get the word out to seniors through community meetings like yesterday’s in Parkville.CareFirst spokeswoman Fran Doherty described the program’s marketing tactics as “very aggressive,” including mailings, press conferences and community meetings.