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Subsidized medicine plan drawing few here

October 29, 2000

Subsidized medicine plan drawing few here



By LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer


Only 46 out of 1,011 eligible Washington County senior citizens have signed up for a new state-subsidized prescription drug plan, officials said Friday.

The health insurance company that's administering the Rural Senior Pharmacy Program believes more people could benefit.

CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield held a news conference in Cumberland, Md., Friday to publicize the program, designed to help seniors who lost prescription coverage under their Medicare HMO plans at the end of 1999.

Right now the program, set up by the Maryland General Assembly this year, is only open to those who lost HMO coverage in 17 rural counties, including Washington and Frederick.

On Dec. 27, the program will be opened to all Medicare recipients in those counties.

For a $40 monthly premium, eligible seniors qualify for:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> A $1,000 prescription drug benefit annually, after paying a $50 deductible.

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HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> A three-tier prescription program, under which members pay $10 for generic drugs, $20 for preferred brand-name drugs and $35 for other brand-name drugs.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Access to discounts ranging from 13 percent to 16 percent on prescription drugs when using a participating pharmacy, even after members have reached their $1,000 benefit maximum.

"This is for people who have significant drug costs who don't have access to any other kind of prescription drug program at this time," said Frances P. Doherty, vice president of government affairs at CareFirst.

In Frederick County, 45 out of 402 eligible people have enrolled.

"We thought we'd be deluged with members. That has not happened," Doherty said.

If the money is not spent on the program, it will go into the state's general fund, she said.

Ultimately, the federal government will have to address the problem of the escalating cost of prescription drugs, she said.

U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., said Thursday the House approved legislation that takes steps to restore the HMO option for seniors in Western Maryland.

The bill provides incentives for HMOs to return to Western Maryland and accountability to make sure seniors will benefit, Bartlett said.

Doherty expressed doubts that President Clinton will sign the bill.

Real prescription drug reform on the federal level won't take place until after the Nov. 7 election and will largely depend on who wins, she said.

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