Englebright Introduces Emergency Legislation to Ensure That Federal Prescription Drug Plan Does No Harm

January 13, 2006

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), Chair of the Committee on Aging, announced today that he has joined with Assemblyman Gottfried, Chair of the Health Committee, in introducing emergency legislation to provide prescription drugs for individuals left without coverage following the federal government’s chaotic implementation of the new Medicare Prescription Drug Program (Medicare Part D).

Some 600,000 elderly and disabled New Yorkers of modest means who are eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare Part D automatically stopped receiving Medicaid prescription drug coverage on Jan. 1. As a result, many now find themselves being wrongfully denied access to vital prescription drugs. Under Assemblyman Englebright’s proposal, the state will immediately cover drug claims for anyone eligible for the Medicare Part D program that is currently being denied prescription drugs. The state will then seek reimbursement from Washington.

According to New York’s Medicare Rights Center, hotline calls are up 400 percent over last year and the state Department of Health has found that at least 10,000 state residents eligible for the new drug benefit were never automatically assigned a plan.

“I can say without exaggeration that the implementation of this poorly conceived prescription program is putting lives in danger,” said Assemblyman Englebright. “Senior citizens are walking out of drugstores empty-handed and in tears. Going without prescription drugs is perilous not just for those with heart disease or diabetes, but also those who have chronic pain conditions or psychiatric problems,” Assemblyman Englebright said. “I urge the governor and Senate to work with the Assembly to provide immediate relief to ensure that no one falls through the cracks.”

A few states including Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire and North Dakota have enacted legislation to cover drug costs for low-income beneficiaries who are having problems.

Further problems stem from computer and clerical errors. A common problem is that computers are correctly recognizing low-income seniors as being enrolled in Medicare drug plans, but they're not flagged as low-income – and are being charged the regular prices.

“Elderly people living on meager fixed incomes have found themselves recorded in computers as financially well-off,” Englebright added. “And as a result are being asked to cover a $250 deductible and 25 percent of the next $2,000 in drug costs instead of a flat-fee of $5 per prescription.

“This crisis is causing many of our society’s most vulnerable citizens to go without medication for diabetes, heart disease and even cancer,” Assemblyman Englebright said. “We cannot allow this to happen. My legislation will ensure those who need medications will get them while Washington gets its act together.”