Washington state will get a $14 million Medicare credit from the federal government because the cost of prescription drugs has dropped, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt announced during a weekend visit to the state.
After Leavitt met with Gov. Chris Gregoire, the governor announced that the state would allocate the $14 million to cover co-payments for the state's poorest residents in the new Medicare prescription drug plan.
Under the plan that began Jan. 1, Medicare beneficiaries — the elderly and the disabled — may enroll in private plans that will pay part of the cost of their prescription drugs with government subsidies.
In Washington, about 96,000 Medicare people whose prescriptions were previously paid in full by Medicaid now face co-payments of $1 to $5 per prescription refill for the first time. Many of them say they are being denied coverage or are being overcharged when there is confusion over eligibility.
"No rational person would expect a transition this significant or this large to go without some unexpected problems," Leavitt said.
He said that the computer problems and other glitches have been resolved and asserted that most Medicare beneficiaries are getting prescriptions filled on time.
Gregoire said Saturday the state will use the $14 million to cover co-pays for "96,000 of our most vulnerable citizens" who need prescription drugs.
Many have serious mental and physical problems and require seven to 15 prescriptions per month, Gregoire said.
"A dollar to $5 may not sound like a lot to some, but these folks are living on $579 or less per month. In Washington state, the average number of prescriptions a dual eligible takes is seven, and many take 15 or more," she said.
The state will start covering the co-pays within two weeks, according to the governor's staff. Those who have paid some co-pays already will not be reimbursed.
The exemption is only for this year, and the governor acknowledged it would be a continuing problem unless more funds are available.
— The Associated Press