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Medbank program extension is likely

March 10, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS - Legislation to continue the Maryland Medbank Program appears destined for approval as all 141 House members have signed on as co-sponsors.

The bill's lead sponsor, Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, presented the measure Thursday to the House Health and Government Operations Committee. The Senate approved a companion bill in January.

Medbank supplies prescription medications to low-income Marylanders who lack other prescription drug coverage. It began as a pilot program "in a tobacco warehouse in Hagerstown," Donoghue told the committee, and since its inception in 2000 has distributed $90 million in free medication to 32,000 patients statewide.

The original legislation included a June 30, 2005, termination date. It was extended last year to June 30, 2006. Donoghue's bill removes the termination date.

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The state has allocated about $9 million for administration of the program through the current fiscal year.

No state funds are earmarked for Medbank in the fiscal 2007 budget proposal.

Medbank is administered by a private entity that partners with pharmaceutical companies to distribute the medications.

Medbank Director Robert McEwan told the committee that thousands still participate in the program despite changes to Medicare coverage. The program helps patients in the "Part D doughnut hole" who otherwise wouldn't be covered, he said. They include the working poor and uninsured who "are still coming to Medbank in large numbers," he said.

Kim Murdaugh, director of the Walnut Street Community Health Center, told the committee that Medbank serves 350 patients in Washington County.

"Even with Medicare Part D, we still have a need," she said, because Part D coverage targets the elderly and disabled. "The working poor are ineligible for other programs."

Medbank "is still very relevant - it helps them stay out of emergency rooms and hospitals" by providing needed medication, Murdaugh said.

"The savings to the state are virtually incalculable," Donoghue said.

No one spoke in opposition to the bill.

House bill 822

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