- The Washington Times - Monday, December 3, 2001

ROANOKE (AP) State legislators studying how to help senior citizens afford their prescription drugs plan to recommend expanding statewide a program that has been successful in southwest Virginia.
For each dollar of state money given to the Pharmacy Connect prescription program, organizers have been able to get pharmaceutical companies to donate about $16 worth of drugs.
"What we would do is expand that into all 25 area agencies on aging, funding one staff person and the support they need," said Judith Castleman, executive director of Virginia Quality Healthcare Network and a member of the Joint Commission on Prescription Drug Assistance.
The study commission was appointed to review several drug-prescription proposals defeated in the last legislative session. The recommendations will be presented as bills or budget amendments when the General Assembly convenes in January.
The other major recommendation approved by the group calls for expanding Medicaid eligibility so more low-income elderly and disabled people can qualify for benefits that cover drug costs.
Medicare, which insures people once they reach age 65, does not cover outpatient prescriptions.
"We will recommend that Medicaid eligibility increase from 80 percent of poverty to 100 percent. That's a big-ticket item. I don't know if it will go very far," said state Delegate S. Chris Jones, Suffolk Republican and chairman of the study group.
The price tag for that option could be as high as $29.7 million, matched with $31.6 million in federal dollars. Expanding Pharmacy Connect would be cheaper, with an estimated $4.8 million cost. That program helps seniors apply for free drugs that companies make available to low-income people.
"There are about 100 [drug] companies that participate in the program," said Marilyn Pace Maxwell, executive director of Mountain Empire Older Citizens Inc., which coordinates Pharmacy Connect.
In the program, people can get help at any of 18 sites to apply for the free prescription drugs. Using computer software developed especially for the program, the staff helps applicants in Norton and Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell and Wise counties.
"Pharmacy Connect is wonderful, but it is not the ultimate answer," Miss Maxwell said. "It's the front-line defense when it should be for those who fall through the cracks. Expanding Medicaid eligibility, that would be a way to go."

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