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Prescription program gets fraction of funding request

September 24, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

Advocates for senior citizens haven't given up on a program to help poor retirees pay for prescription medicine, even though they only got a fraction of the startup funding they requested from the Washington County Gaming Commission.

The Washington County Commission on Aging asked for $111,000 but got $10,000 last week from the Gaming Commission when it allocated money from annual tip jar proceeds.

Chairman Lou Thomas said the Gaming Commission wanted to make sure the program was on solid footing before granting money to buy medications.

"I think the concept of it is real good," he said. "We thought we'd help them get something in place."

The group was disappointed with the amount of the grant because there is such an urgent need for prescription help in the county, said Frederick F. Otto, executive director of the Commission on Aging.

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But the committee plans to work with the Gaming Commission to address its concerns, said state Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

"I believe in this and I am willing to do whatever it takes to get the program going," said Shank, who formed the committee that came up with the proposal.

The plan is targeted to help senior citizens who make too much to qualify for the Maryland Pharmacy Assistance Program but can't afford the often high cost of medications.

Washington County residents age 60 and older could apply for partial reimbursement for prescription drugs.

The Gaming Commission also suggested the committee work with the Community Free Clinic, which has a similar program. The committee has a meeting Monday with Lorri Rice, director of the Community Free Clinic, Shank said.

The committee will also meet with representatives from an Allegany County, Md., program with a similar goal, Shank said. Then it can decide how best to spend the $10,000 grant, he said.

Shank said he hopes the program will be established by the Gaming Commission's next distribution cycle, which begins in November and is awarded in February.

The Gaming Commission is also concerned about funding a program that would be solely dependent on its grants to survive, Thomas said. There's no guarantee the state won't someday take the tip jar profits, which have been running more than $2 million a year.

"We all know how gambling can be. We don't want these organizations to fall by the wayside," Thomas said.

Many of the larger grants were given to organizations asking for one-time costs, such as the YMCA and SPCA, which are planning new buildings.

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