As we have detailed the lost benefits for 64,000 people formerly covered by the Missouri RX program, the Courier-Post is dismayed at the poor performance of the Missouri Department of Social Services in keeping senior citizens informed both timely and truthfully.

As we have detailed the lost benefits for 64,000 people formerly covered by the Missouri RX program, the Courier-Post is dismayed at the poor performance of the Missouri Department of Social Services in keeping senior citizens informed both timely and truthfully.

To recap the situation: Missouri RX helps senior citizens cover 50 percent of the co-payment for prescription medications. The program was first signed into law by former Gov. Matt Blunt in 2006, and every three years since then has been renewed by the Legislature.

The 2017 session of the Legislature renewed the Missouri RX program through 2022, but as outlined in the budget proposal of Gov. Eric Greitens, it removed benefits for elderly people earning between 80 percent to 130 percent of the federal poverty rate. The only seniors covered now are those on both Medicare and Medicaid.

The move saved the state $15 million as lawmakers scrambled to overcome a $500 million shortfall in fiscal year 2018. We are not criticizing the budget cut. The cut is distasteful and has left 64,000 Missouri senior citizens scrambling for coverage, but when challenged to address a $500 million shortfall, lawmakers faced two choices — raise taxes or cut spending.

While the budget cut is painful, the way it has been handled by the Department of Social Services has been an exercise in cold, unfeeling bureaucratic language that has not fully and honestly addressed the situation.

The department mailed letters dated June 16, telling seniors that their benefits were being cut as of July 1. The letter started out: “Due to a law passed in 2014, your Missouri RX (MORx) program coverage expires in 2017. The last day you can receive help with prescription drug co-payment cost from the MORx program will be June 30, 2017.”

There are two major shortcomings that were a disservice to seniors. First is a two-week notice that benefits were ending. The department knew this was a part of the budget and waited until past the last minute to inform 64,000 Missouri seniors that their lives were being disrupted. Second, the statement about a 2014 law is simply inaccurate. The 2014 law created a sunset provision for Missouri RX, the same as legislation had done since it was first passed in 2006. The real reason the seniors are being cut — the truth — is that when the Legislature renewed Missouri RX, it cut benefits for the seniors not on Medicaid.

The department should have been honest. How about sending the letter earlier, and saying, “Missouri faced a $500 million budget shortfall this year, and although Missouri RX was renewed through 2022, your benefits are no longer available. We understand this will create a potential hardship…” Something that acknowledges the pending hardship.

There are some heroic efforts to help seniors deal with the loss of benefits. The Monroe City Senior Nutrition Center staff has worked daily to assist seniors find alternatives. Administrator Diana Hendrix and her staff have been universally praised by seniors, who say that the center’s staff members are looking everywhere possible for assistance. They are finding help for seniors one case at a time, although much of the assistance is short term. There are few long-term solutions available for seniors.

And there is another ray of hope for the impacted seniors. As Rep. Jim Hansen (R-Frankford) told us last week, the Missouri RX program is still alive, and his hope is that the Legislature can begin restoring funding for some of the 64,000 seniors who were cut off for fiscal 2018.

But as for the Department of Social Services, it is time for Hansen and his colleagues to it take behind the woodshed. Its actions — or lack of actions — are shameful.