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Donoghue's legislation would direct federal funds to MedBank

March 24, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - The House of Delegates is expected to act soon on a proposal for a more-permanent funding source for a prescription drug program that has provided millions of dollars worth of medications for low-income Maryland residents.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, sponsored a bill to fund MedBank of Maryland with federal grants for which the state will be eligible next year through the Medicare program.

When Medicare Part D becomes effective Jan. 1, it will cover some Marylanders who need financial help to obtain prescribed medications. Donoghue said states that continue their own prescription drug programs will receive federal grants for them. Maryland's share is to be $17 billion. Donoghue's bill would direct a portion of that money to MedBank.

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"I put the bill in as a vehicle to deal with MedBank and their funding. Every year they come down and beg for money to keep the program going," Donoghue said. Donoghue said he believed the program was too important to be left at the mercy of budget reductions.

MedBank was provided $500,000 in Gov. Robert Ehrlich's initial budget proposal for fiscal year 2006, which begins July 1, and an additional $1 million in a supplemental budget proposal Ehrlich released late last week.

But during budget deliberations over the weekend in the House Appropriations Committee, $800,000 of that $1 million was cut.

Donoghue then amended the bill to set aside $800,000 from the federal funds for MedBank in fiscal 2006, and $1 million of the funds in fiscal 2007 and thereafter.

Donoghue has estimated the program needs about $2 million per year to operate.

Statewide, some 10,000 Marylanders benefit from MedBank, including 1,151 in Washington County. The program provides about $21.5 million worth of medications at no cost to its clients. In Washington County, clients received $3 million worth of medicines in 2004.

Through MedBank, pharmacies send prescription drugs directly to the agency, which then distributes them directly to doctors.

MedBank began as a pilot program in Hagerstown, through Walnut Street Family Practice, a division of the Washington County Health System.

"It proved to be so good we took it throughout the state," Donoghue said.

MedBank has provided more than $68 million in free medicines to more than 30,000 clients statewide, according to its Web site.

In addition to the federal grants, Donoghue said resources for MedBank include insurer CareFirst's Outreach Program and the Maryland Hospital Association, of which Washington County Hospital is a member.

"Washington County Hospital has always been very good to MedBank," Donoghue said.

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