Prescription assistance cuts leaves some senior scrambling to pay for medications

A $15 million budget cut enacted by the Missouri Legislature is causing ripples of concern among senior citizens across the state.

In mid-June, nearly 64,000 Missouri senior citizens received a letter from the Missouri Department of Social Services (DSS) saying they were losing a state benefit that helps pay for prescriptions — within two weeks on July 1.

Diana Hendrix, director of the Monroe City Senior Nutrition Center, said that senior citizens impacted by the decision that are in a panic, as many face large bills without the assistance, and many are frustrated by the two-week warning from the DSS.

At issue is a law that paid 50 percent of the cost of prescriptions for seniors.

“Some of these people are on six and seven prescriptions that are very expensive because there is no generic version available,” Hendrix said. “It is tough because many of these of seniors may only receive $1,200 or $1,300 a month from Social Security — and some even less, as little as $700 a month. They are very concerned. We have been getting calls like crazy.”

Monroe City Nutrition Center staff member Lou Lemen said that the center is scrambling to provide assistance.

“It seems like all 64,000 people are here in northeast Missouri,” she said. “It is a tough blow to many of them.”

Added Hendrix: “Some have said that they would forgo their medication because a husband or wife needed a medication more than they do. There are some hard choices.”

The program, Missouri RX, will no longer be available to seniors who make between 85 percent and 185 percent of the federal poverty level, which is up to $22,000 for an individual. The cutback trimmed $15 million from the state budget.

“Due to a law passed in 2014, the MORx program coverage expires in 2017 for members who have Medicare only. The law includes Missouri Revised Statutes 208.798 and 208.790,” said Rebecca L. Woelfel, communications director, for the Missouri Department of Social Services. She did not answer a question about why seniors received only two weeks’ notice by press time for the Salt River Journal.

The 2014 law that Woelfel cites was actually an extension of the entire program, which was first signed into law in 2006 former Gov. Matt Blunt. The law contained so-called sunset provisions that allowed for periodic legislative review, and it was renewed 2011 and again in 2014, and signed by former Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon. The 2014 law actually provided sunset for the entire law, not just the portion that covers Medicare-only senior citizens. The Legislature chose to cut the Medicare-only senior citizens.

In the legislation that was passed cutting funding, the Missouri RX program was not killed. Missouri RX has actually been extended through 2022, but the only senior citizens who will receive assistance are those who receive Medicare and Medicaid — about 8,000 senior citizens.

Hendrix said that one bright spot for senior citizens is that the state has extended the enrollment period for certain Medicare Part D assistance, but that will not help many of her clients.

In her email, Woefel said that senior citizens impacted by the loss of Missouri RX benefits can seek information from these sources:

• To see if you qualify for MO HealthNet (Medicaid), call the Family Support Division at 1-855-373-4636.

• Partnership for Prescription Assistance 1-888-477-2669 or online at pparx.org

• Rx Outreach 1-800-769-3880

• Community Leaders Assisting the Insured of Missouri (CLAIM) 1-800-390-3330

• Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) 1-800-677-1116