June 8, 2005 – Responding to the national increase in prescription rates for senior citizens, the Senate's Finance Committee approved legislation today calling for a $500,000 budget appropriation to the Pharmaceutical Assistance Program's Aged Special Fund.
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg said as the cost of living has increased, seniors have been forced into difficult decisions.
"They are balancing their money between food and medicine," added Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Finance vice chair, "and that is not right."
The bill, introduced by Sen. Liston Davis originally called for a $300,000 increase, but passed at $500,000 due to an amendment made during the hearing by Donastorg. "I have been discouraged by my colleagues to draft such an amendment," the Senator said, "because it was believed that these monies were simply a match for funds provided by the federal governmenttherefore, any increase in our funding for this would prevent the acquisition of federal funding elsewhere."
Sedonie H. Halbert, Department of Human Services commissioner, refuted this notion, declaring that all previous funding came solely from the V.I. government, with the Department's Division of Senior Citizen's Affairs previously receiving $250,000 annually. "However," said Halbert, "the program has an actual expenditure level of $477,500, except in FY 2005 when expenditures totaled $278,000."
Halbert attributed this significant decline in expenditures to the discontinuation of taking on new applicants in FY 2003, the reduction in the level of awards for each recipient due to funding limitations, and reluctance expressed on behalf of local pharmacies to work with the V.I. government. Services provided by Kmart, for example, have ceased by reason of a considerable debt still owed to the company by the government. "However," argued Donastorg, "it is my knowledge that this pharmacy stopped offering a discounted rate on prescriptions to seniorsthat's why the amount owed is so high."
As the Executive Budget for FY 2006 already includes a $400,000 allotment for the program, Sen. Louis Hill finished his first round of interrogation by asking Halbert why there is a need for an additional increase of $300,000. The commissioner responded by stating that the program's funds will be used to cover the medication cost associated with a new Chronic Disease Groupincluding those individuals with cancer, chemotherapy needs, HIV, strokes, heart disease, and Alzheimer's, a condition which is on the rise in the Virgin Islands. Additional funding also supports an advance payment system with three local pharmacies in order to provide easier access for seniors needing to purchase medication, as well as education for seniors with regards to drug interaction awareness and wellness issues. "Based on these actions," Halbert said, "we will certainly exceed budget as it is."
Sen. Celestino White offered the only opposition to the bill, asking Halbert why the weekly sum of $15,000 provided to these departments by the lottery has not been touched by Human Services. However, while White showed dissatisfaction at Halbert's response of, "I don't know," he joined in the Committee's unanimous movement to pass the Bill onto the Rules Committee, approving the motion with the amendment of the addition of $500,000 to the executive budget.
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