Emma Jo Mudd, 94, is unhappy with the elimination of assistance for prescription drug co-payments for her and thousands of other Missouri senior citizens.

Emma Jo Mudd, 94, is unhappy with the elimination of assistance for prescription drug co-payments for her and thousands of other Missouri senior citizens.

“I’d like to ask the governor why he cut Missouri RX? Doesn’t he realize that seniors need this,” she said in the living room of her modest apartment in Monroe City last week. “Why pick on us?”

She is a planner, managing on her $1,200-a-month Social Security check. Mudd is budgeted to the penny. She takes only four medications, and faces a small increase in her monthly cost.

More than 64,000 Missouri seniors received a letter dated June 16 from the Missouri Department of Social Services stating that they were losing prescription benefits under the Missouri RX program. The program was first passed in 2006 and signed into law by former Gov. Matt Blunt. It originally contained a so-called sunset provision, calling for the Legislature to review and renew Missouri RX every three years.

But facing a $500 million budget shortfall for fiscal 2018, the Legislature voted to renew Missouri RX through 2022, but along with the renewal came a $15 million budget cut that eliminated senior citizens who were earning between 80 percent and 130 percent of the poverty rate. That has left 64,000 senior citizens scrambling to find other means of assistance. Only senior citizens who are covered by both Medicare and Medicaid remain covered under Missouri RX.

Rep. Jim Hansen (R-Frankford), who represents Monroe and Ralls counties in the Missouri House of Representatives, said that cuts in the program were a tough but necessary vote as the Legislature worked to balance the state budget.

“We had to make cuts and this was one of the many areas that we cut,” Hansen said.

Hansen said that it is important to note that Missouri RX was extended to 2022 instead of not being renewed. Had Missouri RX been allowed to sunset, the remaining seniors eligible for coverage would have been moved to the Medicaid program. However, Missouri RX remains a budget line item, meaning lawmakers can work to restore funding.

“We hope we have the revenue next year to reinstate more money to the program,” he said.

Regardless of the budget reasons, though, senior citizens impacted by the budget cuts feel squeezed, and unfairly targeted by the state budget scalpel.

“I feel like as senior citizens we have paid our taxes, worked to make the economy run and now we are just an easy target,” said Brenda Foster, 70, who lives in Monroe City senior housing with her husband, Robert, 77. “It just is not fair.”

Brenda Foster takes 10 medications for various conditions, which include diabetes and arterial fibrillation, which is an irregular heartbeat that raises the risk of blood clots and stroke. Her co-payment on just one medication to control her diabetes, went from $90 every three weeks to $190. And she faces other increases.

The nearly $500 a month the couple pays in health care expenses already stretches their $1,840 monthly Social Security payments, and they worry that amount could go up as much as $200 to $300 a month.

“I planned to keep on working past 65,” she said, “but then my body just started to give me problems.”

In Madison, Carol Larson, 81, and her husband of nearly 62 years, Russell, who is 84, are not certain exactly what their increase may be for prescription co-payments. Carol recently got some good news that a medication she takes for arterial fibrillation, Eliquis, will be provided for no co-pay until January by the manufacturer, although she must drive to her doctor’s office in Columbia to receive the medication.

“I think they’ve given up on our senior citizens,” Carol said of political leaders.

As with other seniors, the potential increase in medication costs is tightening an already tight budget.

“You just have to cut back on what we don’t need,” said Carol. “Once in a while, we might go to Hardee’s or get a pizza from Casey’s – not that we do it that often because of our diets – but maybe not now.”

What bothers many seniors is what they consider a lack of timely communications with the Department of Social Services. In the letter sent to recipients of the assistance, department blames the end of funding on the 2014 renewal of Missouri RX with no other explanation, and abruptly gave the less than two weeks to find alternative.

“It has been a nightmare for many senior citizens,” said Lou Lemen, the retired director of United Way of the Mark Twain Area who volunteers at the Monroe City Senior Nutrition Center. “Two weeks notice was just very unfair.”

Lemen says the Monroe City Senior Nutrition Center continues to receive dozens of calls a week from senior citizens impacted by the Missouri RX changes. She helps clients navigate the many government grants that are available and even works with pharmaceutical manufacturers to seek assistance. But it can be a long process.

* * *

Here are some resources for senior citizens who need help with prescription drug costs”

‒ 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