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Seniors are a step away from lower drug bills

A measure that would give senior citizens cheaper prescriptions needs only Gov. Jeb Bush's signature.

By JO BECKER

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- Seniors struggling with the high cost of prescription drugs will get some help, under a bill sent to Gov. Jeb Bush on Friday.

The bill would provide poor seniors up to $80 per month in pharmacy benefits. An estimated 30,000 qualified seniors will be affected. Each would have to come up with a 10 percent co-payment to participate.

The $15-million program would begin Jan. 1.

In addition, the bill would force pharmacies participating in the state's Medicaid program to give Florida's 2.8-million Medicare recipients a discount on drugs. Pharmacists would use a discount formula that state officials estimate could lead to an average discount of 5 to 10 percent.

That discount would be enjoyed by all Medicare recipients, regardless of income.

Seniors on Medicare do not receive a drug benefit, and many with lower incomes are left with the choice of paying for pills or food.

While Medicare is the responsibility of the federal government, the Republican-controlled Legislature decided to take action because Congress and President Clinton are at loggerheads over how to give seniors help paying for drugs. The program would cease if the federal government agrees on its own program.

"The Florida Legislature had the wisdom and courage to act where Congress has not," said AARP state director Bentley Lipscomb.

The program has been scaled back from the $55-million plan originally announced, as Republicans looked to find money for a $500-million tax cut, education and other state needs. Gov. Jeb Bush hasn't taken a position on the bill.

Still, the program should play well in an election year, given that nearly one out of six Floridians is over age 65. The GOP is mindful of polls showing that seniors trust Democrats more when it comes to critical issues such as Medicare and Social Security.

The bill's prescription drug benefit would help poor seniors whose income is from 90 percent to 120 percent of the poverty level. That's between $10,125 and $13,500 a year for a family of two.

To pass the bill, state Sen. Tom Lee gave up trying to force pharmaceutical manufacturers to disclose certain gifts to doctors. Such gifts are part of the pharmaceutical sales force's pitch to get doctors to prescribe one drug over another.

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