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    Prescription plan faces pains in Senate

    The House tentatively approves it, but the Senate worries about the cost.

    By ALISA ULFERTS, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 8, 2003

    TALLAHASSEE -- A prescription drug plan that could help as many as 250,000 senior citizens cover the cost of their medications is sailing through the Florida House but could hit a snag in the Senate.

    The bill (HB 843) would save lower-income seniors as much as 60 percent of their prescription drug costs and is part of a bipartisan effort that is likely to be the first bill the House sends over to the Senate. The House tentatively approved the bill Friday.

    It's packaged with another bill (HB 1) that would offer seniors a one-stop center for applying for the more than 130 private discount programs offered by drug companies and teach seniors how to use them.

    "This plan is for real Floridians, for real people, for real savings," said House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City.

    The Senate is worried about the price tag.

    The program would cost about $27-million -- $11.6-million from the state's general tax collections and the rest from the federal government and other trust funds. But much of the discount comes from the drugmakers, who will have to give discounts if they want their drugs used in the Medicaid program.

    "We don't have the money," Senate President Jim King said. He said the plan, despite its broad bipartisan support in the House, has received very little scrutiny in committees.

    "We intend to take some public testimony," King said.

    Under the House's drug discount program, seniors who pay about $130 now for a 30-day supply of the heartburn drug Prevacid would pay between $59 and $74 for the same amount of the same drug, depending on their income.

    The program expands the state's Silver Saver program and would require federal approval. It applies to people 65 or older whose income is up to 200 percent of the poverty level.

    "This is very meaningful reform, and I'm proud to say it's one of the most ambitious programs in the country," said bill sponsor Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach.

    A similar, scaled-down plan has been proposed in the Senate.

    -- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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