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Loss of Drug Program Spells Hardships

Will end of Illinois Cares Rx save money or cost the state more?

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The end of Illinois Cares Rx could fail to save the state any money, said David Vinkler, AARP Illinois associate director. That would happen if older people who have lost access to their medications are forced to get medical care in hospital emergency rooms or in nursing homes. That cost would be much greater than the cost of subsidizing prescriptions and would be paid by taxpayers through Medicaid.

Easy targets

"Unfortunately, people receiving help with prescription expenses make easy targets," Vinkler said. "But does cutting those programs really save money? At this point, we don't think so."

Tina Saenz, an advocate at Solutions for Care, which helps older people obtain health care, housekeeping, legal services, home-delivered meals and other services in Chicago's western suburbs, helped one couple in their 70s apply for Illinois Cares Rx to pay for transplant follow-up medications, cancer treatment drugs, anticoagulants and other medications.

"The wife called recently and asked me to put her in touch with food pantries because they can't afford groceries any more," Saenz said. Their plight will only worsen as their prescription copays rise.

"There was no planning for a transition. Last year they cut [Illinois Cares Rx] in half on Sept. 1, but they gave us July and August to prepare," said John Coburn, senior policy attorney at Health & Disability Advocates of Chicago. Social service agencies thus had time to match beneficiaries to other programs, like Medicare Extra Help.

"This year there wasn't a lot of discussion," Coburn said. "They just got rid of it."

If you need help paying for prescription drugs, here is what you can do:

Medicare Extra Help — If you meet certain income and resource limits, you may qualify for Extra Help from Medicare to pay the costs of Medicare prescription drug coverage.

Change Medicare Part D plan — You may find a plan that has lower premium costs or pays more for the specific drugs you need.

Prescription discount cards — Some pharmaceutical companies provide discounts for needy drug users. Contact your drug company to see whether you qualify.

Joseph Sjostrom is a freelance writer living in Oak Park, Ill.

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Dr. Armon Neel, AARP's 'Ask the Pharmacist' columnist, explains why the medications you take may be causing more harm than good. Watch

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