BY JOHN TOSCANO
Seniors who rely on the Medicaid and EPIC programs will be hit hard by "the harshest cuts ever enacted on the pharmacy sector" in the recent state budget that was passed in Albany, the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York (PSSNY) charged last week.
The pharmacists' organization said millions of elderly and chronically ill New Yorkers are at risk of losing quality health care access because the lawmakers and Governor David Paterson included a drastic cut in reimbursements to pharmacists who participate in Medicaid and the staterun EPIC drug discount program.
PSSNY charged in a news release that the reduction in reimbursements from the state to drug store operators will result in $50 million in pharmacy losses. That represents a 70 to 80 percent reduction to seniors who get the benefits of reimbursements PSSNY said.
Besides seniors, the disabled and lowincome families on Medicaid, the reimbursement cuts will also impact persons in the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, PSSNY charged.
"Albany lawmakers may have turned a deaf ear on the needs of the state's most vulnerable citizens, but we are listening and we will not back down," declared Donald J. Cantalino, PSSNY president. "Our patients are bearing the brunt of cuts to the entire healthcare sector and it is time to take a stand."
PSSNY had launched the Protect Pharmacy Patients campaign throughout the state to try to convince the governor and state legislative leaders to take the reimbursement cuts out of the budget. With the reimbursement, pharmacists are able to reduce prices for prescriptions and other healthcare services they provide to Medicare and EPIC members.
Without the reimbursements, pharmacists will drop out of those programs. In the past, similar cuts have forced many drug stores around the state to shut down.
Meanwhile, the PSSNY news release stated, "Now that lawmakers have left Albany without reversing the [reimbursement] cuts, the coalition will take its message to the districts of the lawmakers most responsible for the cuts. The coalition will ensure that voters understand how dramatically New York's leaders have hurt senior citizens and others who rely on independent pharmacists for critical services such as counseling, free delivery for homebound patients, and expanded hours of access."
Past cuts in reimbursements, PSSNY said, drove 40 upstate and rural pharmacies out of business and forced more than 200 others to leave the medicaid program.
SCRIE ELIGIBILITY CAPS INCREASED: The city Department for the Aging (DFTA) has announced that the income eligibility level for the Senior Citizens Rent Increase (SCRIE) program has increased from $27,000 annual income to $28,000 for New York City tenants aged 62 and over and whose combined incomes, as of July 1, were $28,000. Beneficiaries must also reside in rent-stabilized housing.
DFTA Commissioner Edwin Mendez- Santiago stated, "I urge all seniors in rentcontrolled and rent-stabilized apartments to apply for this vital benefit. Today, more than 44,500 older adults are able to remain in their community and afford their apartments because of SCRIE. Applications are available at ACCESS NYC or by calling 311."
Mendez-Santiago explained that the SCRIE Program, administered by DFTA, was initiated in 1970 by the city of New York. SCRIE is a state-authorized entitlement which enables eligible seniors who live in rent-controlled or rent-stabilized apartments or certain residential hotel units to receive an exemption from paying future increases in their rent. Landlords and management agents receive tax abatement credits in lieu of cash for any rent increase. Under Local Law 75, signed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2005, the income eligibility threshold of the SCRIE Program will increase $1,000 per year until it reaches $29,000 in 2009.
The 2008 Senior Citizens Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) Requirements are:
• For rent-stabilized apartments, tenants must have a valid one- or two-year lease.
• Rent must be at least 1/3 of net monthly income.
• Head of household must be 62 or older.
• Assets: No limit. • Income: $28,000 household total.