Thursday, May 23, 2002

Ohio Senate approves drug discounts for seniors

Proposal added amid attempts to balance budget

By Brian Clark
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — A program to let seniors buy prescription drugs at discounted prices passed the Ohio Senate early Wednesday as part of a bill to rebalance the state budget.

        Under the proposal, the Department of Aging would contract with a company to find drug discount plans and offer them to anyone who is eligible for the department's Golden Buckeye card.

        The discounts would depend on what a department program administrator can negotiate with manufacturers, wholesalers and pharmacies.

        Rob Wright, legislative liaison for the Department of Aging, says officials hope to be able to offer discounts of 10 percent to 30 percent to anyone 60 or older or disabled.

        He said the new program could be operating within six months.

        “For an individual who has high drug costs, 10 percent to 30 percent is better than nothing,” he said. “Sure, seniors want a drug program that pays for everything — but for what the state can afford right now, this is a great program.”

        Kathy Keller, communications director for AARP of Ohio, which represents seniors, says her agency fears the program will be too limited.

        “Any help is good, but this isn't going to make a big difference for enough people,” she said. “We're glad they're trying to give some people some help, but it's not going to be a big impact.”

        There have been at least 12 versions of the proposal. The version that passed the Senate calls for a “financial incentive” to be given to stores that offer the discounts, but doesn't specify the amount. The lack of specifics worries pharmacists.

        “As I understand it, the majority of (the rebate) will come off the back of the pharmacists, and we're not real comfortable with that,” said Ernest Boyd, executive director of the Ohio Pharmacists Association.

        Lora Miller, government affairs director of the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants, also has concerns about the bill.

        “We're afraid the program is not going to do what's been promised,” Ms. Miller said. “Seniors will be disappointed, and participating pharmacies will be paying for the discounts.”

        Gov. Bob Taft has been pushing for prescription discounts for months, urging Senate Republicans in his State of the State speech in February to speed passage of the plan. The legislation was added to a bill to fix the state's $1.9 billion budget deficit.

        “We've been asking for passage of the bill for relief for seniors since the bill was proposed,” said Joe Andrews, a spokesman for the governor. “It's no end-all, do-all for seniors, but we're looking for relief from the federal government ... and until that happens this is kind of a stopgap measure.”


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