We Saved Low Cost Drugs for the Elderly and Disabled from Budget Cuts

March 15, 2013

Click here to find out how the Biennial budget cuts to Maine’s Drugs for the Elderly program was avoided.

6/26 Update: The Senate has voted to override the Governor's veto of the state budget. And, with that, we have a Biennial Budget that preserves the Medicare Savings Program and Drugs for the Elderly Program. Thanks to all of you who made calls and wrote their legislators and thanks to all of the legislators who worked so hard to put this unanimous budget together and who supported it!

The Governor's Supplemental Budget proposed total elimination of the Low Cost Drugs for the Elderly and Disabled. This benefit is paid for out of the Fund For Healthy Maine, not through taxpayer dollars (the fund is made up of tobacco settlement and Racino funds.) We know when low income seniors lose their drug benefits, they are forced to make hard decisions about meeting their basic needs and paying for their medication. Far too often, they stop taking needed medications and experience adverse health-effects. The Governor's decision to cut this program was penny wise and pound foolish - people will be hurt and so will our economy.

[Update 2/13/13: The Appropriations Committee voted unanimously to rejected elimination of Maine’s Drugs for the Elderly program and restored most cuts to most elder services under the Curtailment Order.  The cuts that were restored were in line 53 of the budget and were cuts to LSE, LTCOP and AAAs.  Cuts to Meals on Wheels, Alzheimer’s respite, PSS and med rides were rejected.  The ISS/Homemaker Program had all but $15,000 in funding restored.  LTCOP did lose $15,000 in funding in a different line.  PNMI bed-hold days were cut, but not eliminated.  And IHSP was cut.  Dr. Sanborn deserves especial appreciation for her work to restore these services as does Eric Jorgenson.]

Jessica Maurer, executive director of the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging, testified before the Joint Committees of Appropriations and Financial Services and Health and Human Services.  Her oral testimony appears below. Written testimony can be found here.

We strongly oppose the elimination of Maine’s Drugs for Elderly program (DEL) as proposed in the Supplemental. In addition, we ask that cuts made to Area Agency on Aging Community Service Programs by the Governor’s Curtailment Order be fully restored.

I have provided extensive written testimony and hope very much that you’ll take the time to consider it. I wish to make three points today:

First: As you consider your work over the next two years, we urge you to consistently make budgeting decisions that advance the sound public policy of helping older Mainer’s successfully age in place. It is well demonstrated that it is more cost effective to provide preventative drug benefits and home-based supports than it is to pay for emergency room visits, hospitalization and institutional care.

Second: Cuts to the DEL program will cost our economy more in the end. We have made a fundamental shift in this country to paying to keep people healthy instead of treating them while they’re sick. The Department is booking savings from Health Homes that are fundamentally based on prevention and maintenance. At the same time, the Governor is recommending cuts to the very programs that help to keep our most vulnerable citizens healthy. Maine’s low income seniors are living closer to the bone than ever before. They are struggling to heat inefficient homes, pay for expensive food and electricity, keep cars on the road and pay for much needed medications. We have seen consistently that when drug programs like DEL get cut, seniors stop taking needed medications or take smaller dosages than prescribed. This can result in catastrophic health events like stroke, heart attack and coma and ultimately leads to increased health care and long term care costs. We urge you to reject elimination of DEL.

Finally: Cuts to the AAAs in the Curtailment Order have put critical supports and services for seniors at risk. Maine seniors are fiercely independent and proud, and, they don’t ever like to ask for help. But, when they do, they call us. Over the last few years, as our population has aged, demand for our services has grown dramatically without increased funding. This has put a significant strain on our ability to provide services. The Curtailment Order has put us over the edge. Seniors are now finding they have to wait for many needed services when they finally call for help. The curtailment order means we’ll deliver thousands of fewer meals, significantly reduce Alzheimer’s respite care hours, and provide fewer medical rides to elderly patients in need of treatment as well as many other things. These critical services are helping to keep seniors successfully aging in place and out of costly institutional care, are helping health systems increase community health and decrease unnecessary ED visits and hospitalizations and are helping to keep Maine family caregivers at work and productively working instead of absent from the workplace. It’s time to stop cutting the systems that are helping to generate savings. We urge you to reject the cuts to these community programs as ordered by the Governor and to restore funding to current levels.

And, if you’ll indulge me for 30 more seconds, I want to tell you this story. People who will lose their MSP drug benefits from last year’s cuts started receiving notices on Friday. The AAAs were inundated with calls – each received between 30-50 calls just on Friday. I wanted to tell you one story. A 69 year old woman from Biddeford called SMAA crying because she just received her letter.  She said she was a single mother who had worked  40 years in a factory, 45 hours a week to support her two children.  She also worked 20 hours a week at Hannaford so worked 7 days a week for 10 years!  She said she could have gone to the state to ask for help but never did.  Now that she is no longer able to work she needs all the help she can get.   She is frightened and does not know what to do. We cannot help her if she is not entitled to benefits. This isn’t the way life should be for older Mainers.

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