Nazar and Ruth Mikaelian would like to visit their great-grandchildren in Virginia, but they have less money for travel now because of cuts to a state program that helped pay for their prescriptions.
“It’s almost impossible,” said Nazar Mikaelian, 81, a retired engineer from Carver.
Massachusetts’ Prescription Advantage program, which supplements Medicare prescription coverage for low- and middle-income residents, used to help pay for their drug premiums and copayments.
The copayment assistance stopped last year. In January, the Mikaelians were among those told that the state would no longer help pay their premiums either. As a result, they’ve seen their monthly prescription drug costs jump from $36 to around $295. Mikaelian said he does not throw away prescriptions, even if they’ve expired. “I don’t get rid of it, I take it,” he said.
Money for the Prescription Advantage program will drop to $31.5 million—just over half what it was three years ago—if the legislature approves Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposal to shave another $3 million.
“This is the program that helps older residents get the medications they need to keep them healthy and out of more expensive care. It’s a lifeline to about 60,000 Massachusetts seniors,” said Deborah Banda, state director for AARP Massachusetts.
Patrick, a Democrat, said he tried not to cut services for older people in his $28.2 billion budget proposal but unprecedented financial challenges left him no choice. “I get what the impact is of these decisions,” he said, adding that if revenue is better than expected, he will restore the money. Massachusetts’ projected budget shortfall is estimated at $5.6 billion, 20 percent of the general fund, according to the Center for Budget Policies and Priorities.
Lawmakers will consider Patrick’s spending plan as they try to construct a state budget by July 1.
Andy Bagley, research director for the nonpartisan Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, said lawmakers should know by then if the state will receive $768 million in federal money that Patrick anticipated and included in his budget. “You take that [nearly] $800 million out, that’s a lot of cuts.”
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, a Democrat, said he will “do the best that I can to see that seniors are cared for.” But DeLeo, who is also president of the Friends of the Winthrop Council on Aging, told the AARP Bulletin: “I can’t make any promises now of what the cuts would be.”