By John Toscano
Drug Companies: We’ll Support Prescription Aid For Seniors
There was encouraging news last week on approving prescription drug coverage for seniors.
Drug industry leaders told President Bill Clinton for the first time that they would be willing to support a drug coverage program, though not necessarily as a part of regular Medicare coverage, as the president proposed.
Nonetheless, the industry leaders’ shift in position on the issue should be good new for seniors, for many of whom prescription drugs are their greatest healthcare cost. Responding to the drug manufacturers offer to cooperate, the president said, "Now what we need is positive action from the drug companies and positive action in Congress."
City Council Speaker Peter Vallone remembered the elderly in compiling his list of budget priorities for this epic first year of the new millennium, which he outlined in his "State of the City" address at City Hall last Tuesday.
In delivering the first thrust in the process that will culminate in a 2000–2001 budget by the spring, Vallone served notice on just a part of what can be expected to be included in that spending plan. Because of his position as the second most powerful official in the city government, we can expect that he will deliver on these promises.
In the coming weeks, the first, most powerful, city official, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, will deliver his "State of the City" message and we can expect some special attention will be directed at the elderly because he has shown in his six years in office that he is a true friend of the city’s seniors.
We have no doubt that both of these men are genuinely interested in providing funding for programs that help seniors to enjoy their remaining years, but their deep concern also shows an awareness of how important a voting bloc our senior population has collectively become.
Getting back to Vallone’s speech, in that oration the Astoria lawmaker made three proposals to improve day–to–day living for seniors: two more free meals per week, some financial aid to offset purchases of over–the–counter medicines and construction of housing facilities.
Vallone said that the free meals many seniors avail themselves of every day at senior centers are fine, but do not go far enough. There should also be free meals for them on Saturdays and Sundays.
"For just $4 per person per day—$8 for a weekend," he stated, "these seniors could have box lunches prepared for them so that they could be assured of eating properly seven days a week." He said the Council would provide funding in the budget to cover the cost of the additional meals.
Next, Vallone pointed out, four out of five of the city’s one million seniors live on fixed incomes and "one of the biggest burdens on their finances—and their peace of mind—is the cost of the medications they need." A large portion of this is attributable to "over–the–counter remedies to cope with their everyday aches and pains," for which they have to pay out of their own pockets.
To help in this area, he proposed "some much needed relief" in the form of a tax credit" which we will implement this year.
Lastly, Vallone said the Council would enact another tax which would cover households headed by a person 65 or older living in rental units that are not exempt from the property tax.
As a second part of this program to provide more and better living facilities for some seniors, Vallone said the Council would include in the budget "capital funding for construction of assisted living housing." He added that this type of housing offers "an attractive and dignified alternative for seniors who fear going to a nursing home."
SENIOR PROPOSALS FROM PATAKI:Governor George Pataki issued his proposed 2000–2001 budget in Albany last Tuesday and in that plan also included some benefits for seniors. Among them was enactment of the third phase of property tax cuts for homeowners and renters under the STAR program. The reductions apply to that portion of real estate taxes which covered school programs and operations.
The STAR program started in the 1998–99 tax year and senior citizens who owned homes saved $85 million as real estate taxes were cut. In 2000–01, senior homeowners with incomes below $60,000 annually will be eligible for an additional tax credit as well as a city income tax reduction. All other senior homeowners will receive tax reduction benefits, too.
Seniors would also benefit from a program to spur construction of affordable housing for low–and moderate–income elderly. This would be achieved by "piggybacking" on federal tax credits given for housing development.
CAMPAIGN FOR RX SAVINGS:Continuing his campaign to get a drug prescription program for seniors, Congressmember Joseph Crowley held meetings last week in two north Queens senior centers.
Last Wednesday, Crowley was at the North Flushing Senior Center at College Point in the College Point synagogue, 20-27 124th St., College Point. Senior activist Anne Greenbaum also spoke.
Last Friday, Crowley appeared at the North Flushing Senior Center at 29-09 137th St., Flushing. State Senator Toby Stavisky (D–Flushing) also addressed the meeting.
Crowley spoke about his proposed Prescription Drug Fairness for Seniors bill which would make prescription drugs available to seniors "at greatly reduced prices." Crowley also supports President Bill Clinton’s proposal to cover prescription drug costs as part of Medicare.
On Friday, Crowley will appear with Assemblymember Ann Margaret Carrozza (D–Bayside) at another meeting covering prescription drugs and other senior issues at the Whitestone Armory, 150-74 6th Ave., Whitestone, at 11 a.m.
BRIDGE ANTE:Two sessions of duplicate bridge are being offered by the Senior Adult Department at the Central Queens Y, 67-09 108th St., Forest Hills. The sessions are scheduled for next Tuesday, Jan. 25th and the following Tuesday, Feb. 7th, both at 10 a.m. Refreshments will be served and the fee for each session is $4 for members and $6 for non–members. Karen Ewald, a Gold Lifemaster, will conduct the sessions.
For information, call (718) 268-5011, Roz at ext. 223 or Renee at ext. 226.
SPECIAL EVENTS AT SELFHELP:The Selfhelp Austin Street Senior Center at 106-06 Queens Blvd., Forest Hills, continues its program of talks on current issues into February with a talk by Benjamin Quin of Bell Atlantic on Thursday, Feb. 3rd at 11 a.m. On Thursday, Feb. 10th, Shirley Koretsky talks on Medicare, also at 11 a.m.
Nutrition is the topic and Regine of Cornell University is the speaker on Tuesday, Feb. 8th and again on Tuesday, Feb. 22nd, both times at 11 a.m.
ATLANTIC CITY TRIP:The Rego Park Senior Center, 93-29 Queens Blvd., Rego Park, has planned a day trip to the Showboat Casino in Atlantic City on Thursday, Jan. 29th. Buses leave from the center at 9 a.m. Price is $18, but $20 in coins is returned at the casino. Call Sandra Epelman at (718) 896-8511 for reservations.