Maryland to adopt county's drug plan

April 06, 2001

Maryland to adopt county's drug plan


ANNAPOLIS - Washington County's prescription drug program will expand statewide under a stop-gap plan to help people with the soaring cost of prescription drugs.

The Maryland General Assembly's $6.5 million plan ensures continuation of the program that links patients with free drugs offered by pharmaceutical companies.

It also subsidizes drug costs for poor people for two years and may eventually lead to discounts for all Medicare eligible individuals without drug coverage.


"I think it's a very responsible program that takes care of people that need it the most," said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington.

Donoghue worked on the legislation as chairman of the health insurance subcommittee of the House Economic Matters Committee.

He and other lawmakers on Friday worked out the final details of the plan, which is meant to be a temporary solution to a larger problem they hope the federal government will eventually fix.

It's expected to be approved by the General Assembly before the session ends at midnight Monday.

The three-prong plan calls for:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Expanding statewide the Western Maryland Prescription Drug Program based at the Walnut Street Community Health Center.

The program has served 800 people in Washington County and could serve as many as 25,000 statewide once it is up and running at a cost of $2.5 million. Western Maryland's portion of the program will receive $200,000.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Subsidizing drug costs for two years for individuals making less than $25,800 a year and couples making less than $34,900.

For a premium of $10 a month, people who sign up could fill their prescriptions for $10, $20 or $35 each, depending on the drug. Yearly benefits would be capped at $1,000. Enrollment is limited to 30,000 people.

The $22 million cost will be paid for by CareFirst out of the state discount they get for providing insurance to low-income people.

The subsidy is similar to the Rural Senior Pharmacy Program designed to help people who were dropped from Medicare managed care programs two years ago.

Only 1,000 people enrolled in that program because the premium, at $40 a month, was too expensive, said Frances P. Doherty, vice president of government affairs at CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Applying for new federal reimbursement rates that would allow all Medicare recipients who don't have drug coverage to get a 20 percent pharmacy discount. Individuals making less than $15,033 a year and couples making less than $20,318 would get a 35 percent discount.

If the so-called Vermont waiver is granted, it wouldn't begin until January 2002.

Although the measure would cost the state an estimated $4 million, drugstores complained it would amount to price controls that would cost the industry $12 million.

To calm their fears, the legislature agreed to charge participants a $1 processing fee for each prescription filled.

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