AARP Montana applauded Governor Brian Schweitzer and the Montana Legislature for fully funding Big Sky Rx, the state’s voter-approved prescription assistance program for seniors. Funding for this vital program passed in the final hours of the 2011 Legislative Session. Big Sky Rx was originally created by the passage of I-149 in 2004 – when voters overwhelmingly approved an increase in tobacco taxes to pay for this prescription drug assistance.
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Big Sky Rx became a political football at the beginning of the 2011 session when legislators adopted a package of cuts. As a result, the future of the program was in jeopardy throughout all of the 88-day session. From the start, AARP members were urged to make their voices heard.
All through the session, AARP Montana members sent postcards to their legislators, made phone calls and sent e-mails asking that funding for Big Sky Rx be restored. AARP Montana advocacy volunteers testified at committee hearings spoke at rallies and walked the hallways of the State Capitol in Helena – visiting one-on-one with key legislators about this crucial issue. All of these efforts had a cumulative effect.
By the end of the session, over 30,000 separate contacts had been made to legislators in Helena – including postcards, phone calls, faxes and e-mails. Older Montanans all across the state made their voices heard and ultimately made the difference. Not only was Big Sky Rx fully restored – ongoing funds were dedicated to the program. Also, senior programs were protected and home and community based services were enhanced.
“This session was perhaps the most difficult I’ve seen in my more than 20 years as a consumer advocate in Helena. The national economic downturn threatened a great deal of our progress and has hit older Montanans especially hard,” said AARP Montana State President Joy Bruck. “But, because older Montanans all across the state answered our call to action, we were able to effectively fight for the 50+ population to protect Big Sky Rx and other senior programs.”
Prescription assistance is a vital issue to many older Montanans. According to a recent AARP Montana survey, 77 percent of Montanans surveyed currently take a prescription drug, or have taken one in the past year. Of these, many have asked for free samples or cut pills in half because of the cost of those prescriptions.
“Considering the budget challenges we faced, this year’s session was perhaps the most successful in recent memory,” Bruck added. “We made great efforts to protect senior programs like Big Sky Rx and Meals on Wheels. In addition, we expanded and enhanced programs that help seniors age in their homes. I want to say ‘congratulations’ to all of the folks across Montana who joined our grassroots campaign and responded to our postcard alerts, picked up the phone and called their legislators, sent an e-mail or fax or attended a rally. All of that work paid off. You made your voices heard and in the end you made a critical difference.”