Since the advent of Medicare Part D last January, a trip to the pharmacy hasn’t been simple for people like 47-year-old Dolores Jeter of New Haven. Jeter is eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare Part D, but Medicare Part D doesn’t cover the prescriptions she needs. She said she’s had difficulty at times simply getting the prescription her doctor has prescribed.
“Sometimes the pharmacist knows you and gives you a small dosage of the medication to get by, but we shouldn’t have to go through that,” she said Tuesday. Jeter said she was diagnosed with a mental illness 33 years ago. But this week Jeter traveled to the state Capitol to join hundreds of Connecticut residents affected by the gap between Medicare and Medicaid, which help low income seniors and disabled individuals of all ages. The message they brought with them Tuesday for state lawmakers: Keep your promise to fund the gap in prescription drug coverage. Judith Stein, executive director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy, said the organization receives at least 18 to 20 calls a day from people unable to get their medication. She said people who participate in Medicaid, Medicare, and ConnPace, “have to have a plan before they go to the pharmacy,” then “once they’re there they can’t be certain they will walk out with the medication they need.” Stein gave this scenario: Mr. Able is 64-years-old and Mr. Brown is 65-years-old and both received the same prescription drugs until January 1, 2006. Mr. Brown was automatically enrolled in Medicare Part D and because of the formulary is unable to get the same drug now that Mr. Able still receives. In 2005, Stein said the legislature understood the discrepancy this created, but in February of 2006 the governor did not include it in her budget. She said the advocates who attended Tuesday’s rally should make sure state lawmakers understand that this discrepancy gives the older and more disabled less coverage and creates a second class within the Medicaid and Medicare system. She said using 10 percent, or about $20 to $24 million, of the Medicare savings the state realizes to fully fund the plan isn’t too much to ask of lawmakers in the final few days of session. Jeter said in her case the drugs that are covered under Medicare Part D formulary cause severe side-effects and make it impossible for her to remain an active member of the community. If the state does not fund the gaps in coverage between the two plans “more people will end up hospitalized and cost the state more in the long run,” she said. Jan Van Tassel, executive director of the Legal Rights Project, said the message is simple: “protect access to medications.“Van Tassel said that message seemed to have been clear in November when the legislature approved $5 million in wraparound funding to be used for this purpose, but since then the message “:gotten garbled.“She said Gov. M. Jodi Rell completely forgot to include the funding in her budget, while the Appropriations Committee included only $5 million, or about 20 percent of the amount needed to fully fund wraparound. Lt. Gov. Kevin Sullivan said “We have not yet come close to keeping that promise.” The federal Medicare Part D prescription drug plan was a “sham to give drug companies more money.” But it didn’t prohibit the state from stepping in to provide better coverage, he added. Sen. Jonathan Harris, D-West Hartford, warned those at Tuesday’s rally that this was the ninth inning, there are already a couple outs, and their team was behind. He urged advocates to put a human face on the issue.