Low-income Missouri seniors will pay more for medications, after state budget cuts | St. Louis Public Radio

Low-income Missouri seniors will pay more for medications, after state budget cuts

Jun 29, 2017

Low-income Missouri seniors likely will pay more for their medications, after Gov. Eric Greitens signs the state budget.

The Missouri Rx Plan covered half the copay charged to seniors on Medicare with incomes below about $24,000 a year. But budget cuts approved by Missouri legislators will end the benefit on July 1. About 63,000 people kicked out of the program received letters in mid-June notifying them of the change, which sparked criticism from advocates for senior citizens.

“If they don’t get their medications, they’re not going to be able to stay healthy, and they’re going to be able to end up in an emergency room,” said Mary Schaefer, executive director of the Mid-East Area Agency on Aging.

“It’s a small amount of money that people received but it helps keep them in their homes longer,” Schaefer said.

Seniors whose incomes are low enough to qualify for Medicaid (about $10,200 annually for a single person) will not be affected. But Schaefer worries that prescription-assistance programs won’t be able to pick up the slack. Her agency already is fielding about 50 calls a day from people who need assistance.

When former Gov. Matt Blunt's administration implemented the Missouri Rx plan in 2006, they included a sunset provision that required governors and legislators to renew the funding every three years. 

State Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, said no one wanted to cut the program, but two difficult budget years gave lawmakers no other option.

“Over $500 million had to be cut from the budget in order to make room for Medicaid spending growth and still balance the budget,” Fitzpatrick wrote  in an email. “The MORx program was one of the last lines that was reduced.”

The cost of the program is a fraction of the state's proposed $27.8 billion budget, said Craig Eichelman, state director for AARP Missouri.

“The way it was originally proposed was that this program had to be cut in order to save other senior programs, and that’s really a false choice,” Eichelman said. “This is definitely something that older Missourians, who are low income depend on.”

Regular use of prescribed medications keeps seniors healthy and out of nursing homes, Eichelman said. Care in a nursing home costs the state’s Medicaid program much more in the long term.

The state is directing people to private sector assistance programs that can provide medications for free or at a reduced cost, including:

Seniors are also encouraged to call the state’s Family Support Division to see if they qualify for Medicaid: MO HealthNet. 1-855-373-4636.

Follow Durrie on Twitter: @durrieB