Senior Spotlight By John Toscano
Senior advocates and pharmacists throughout New York state joined last week in a plea to Governor David Paterson and state legislative leaders to eliminate a provision from next year's state budget that will drastically reduce reimbursements to druggists and severely impact seniors on Medicaid or in the EPIC drug discount program.
The pharmacists, united under the banner Protect Pharmacy Patients, said they fear that the onerous provision that will take effect on July 1 will cut reimbursements to them by 80 percent and result in a collective loss of $50 million for them, driving many out of business. It will also give New York the lowest Medicaid reimbursement level in the United States, the drug store owners say.
New York Statewide Senior Action Council Executive Director John Eadie stated, "Our senior citizens need more services from local pharmacists now more than ever. Unless pharmacy budget cuts are reversed, pharmacies are going to be forced out of business, particularly in rural and underserved areas, the places where the seniors with the greatest need live."
Patients on Medicaid or in the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage (EPIC) program, which offers drugs at discounted prices, or in the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) will be most affected by the reimbursement decrease, Eadie said.
The pharmacists also point out they have not seen an increase in the reimbursement rate since 1976, more than 30 years ago, and the state has cut reimbursements in 12 of the last 14 years. In 2007, they say, 200 pharmacies dropped out of the Medicaid program, or went out of business.
URGE PASSAGE OF MEDICARE IMPROVEMENTS: The Medicare Rights Center (MRC), a national, not-forprofit consumer service organization, has called for passage of a pending bipartisan bill which would make significant improvements in the program while avoiding a fee cut for doctors presently scheduled for July 1.
MRC President Robert H. Hayes said the proposed Patients and Providers Act would contain a number of changes that the center, based on the counseling it gives to Medicare members, believes will improve access to health care for older adults and people with disabilities. Included are:
•Improved coverage of preventive care and mental health services and prescription drugs.
•Alignment of eligibility criteria and removal of bureaucratic obstacles that suppress enrollment in programs that help pay medical and drug costs for low-income Medicare members.
•Important consumer protections for enrollees in Medicare private health plans.
The center has offices in Manhattan and Washington. Its Web site can be accessed at www.medicarerights.org.
TAX BENEFIT FOR FAMILY CAREGIVERS: Individuals who care for an elderly family member in their homes would be entitled to an additional tax exemption under a bill passed by the state senate.
Senator Serphin Maltese (R- C, Middle Village), a supporter of the measure, explained, "When elderly family members are no longer able to live independently, many families opt to provide their own care, rather than put their loved one in a nursing home. However, it is challenging to provide that care while working a full-time job and managing their own lives."
A caregiver's sacrifice may further be financially impacted by the high costs of prescription drugs and auto fuel, Maltese added.
To qualify for the tax exemption, the ill family member would have to be 70 years or older and reside in the household of the caregiver. The caregiver would receive an additional $1,000 tax exemption for each elderly dependent cared for, and the sick person or persons could not have gross income greater than $5,000 a year.
The bill was sent to the Assembly.