July 20, 2003 Delegate to Congress Donna M. Christensen urged approximately 50 senior citizens attending a town hall meeting Saturday to try to move members of the House and Senate away from their versions of the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill.
At the meeting, which was teleconferenced between the two campuses of University of the Virgin Islands, comparisons were discussed among the proposals of the Senate Finance Committee Bill, the House GOP Bill, and the House Democratic Bill.
"If the GOP plan is passed, it could leave seniors, especially those that live in rural areas like the Virgin Islands, without coverage and with high prescription prices," a release from Christensen's office stated.
In an itemized chart the delegate outlined the pros and cons of each bill.
All the bills allow co-payments to be paid by beneficiaries, according to Christensen's analysis. Under "bench mark" benefit, Senate Finance Bill beneficiaries pay 50 percent of drug costs up to $4,500, and then beneficiaries pay 100 percent up to $5,800. In the GOP Bill, beneficiaries pay 20 percent of costs up to $2,000, and then pay 100 percent up to $4,900. While the Democratic bill pays 20 percent of drug costs until the "catastrophic cap" of $2,000 in out-of-pocket expenses is reached and then beneficiaries pay zero percent.
The AARP, formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons, stated in a July 14 letter: "We believe there is an opportunity to produce a better bill."
Christensen encouraged participants to call the senators and representatives on the U.S. Conference Committee and in the House of Representatives, whose mailing addresses, contact numbers and e-mail addresses were distributed at the meeting.
"It is time that we end the squeeze on our seniors' meager incomes and seize the opportunity to fix the problem," Christensen said.
Christensen said she believes the president will sign the bill once it reaches his desk.
However, even if the Democratic bill is passed, no benefits will be received until January 2006.
In order for people to cope until that time, Christensen proposed Pfizer's "living share card" and said she plans to bring other companies to provide assistance.
Carriers of the Pfizer Share Card pay $15 per prescribed medication for a 30-day supply, but the card can only be used for the 45 drugs that Pfizer manufactures.
Not everyone is eligible either, Christensen said. Persons must be enrolled in Medicare, have no prescription drug coverage, not be eligible for any drug benefit from the state, and have a gross income of $18,000 or less a year for a single person, $24,000 or less annually for a couple.
Currently, Doctor's Choice Pharmacy and the K-mart Pharmacy accept the Pfizer Share Card.
Many participants at the town hall meeting said they found the meeting to be very informative, but said they did not feel the share card met their needs.
"I am sorry it would not be able to cover me," said Bianca Mussender. "A lot of the drugs that I use are not there."
AARP member Ivy Creque said, "Some people do not fall into any of the categories."
Participant Angelita Jennings also found that she was not eligible for the share card. Jennings is 74 and still works part time.
Many seniors struggle to afford the medicines they need to have a comfortable life," Christensen said. "But we are trying to meet the gap" between patients and drug companies in hope that the gap will disappear.
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