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IL Seniors Dig Deeper for Meds

PHOTO: Barbara Laconte of Berwyn, whose medication costs have tripled.  Photo credit: Jon Lowenstein. Courtesy of AARP Illinois.
PHOTO: Barbara Laconte of Berwyn, whose medication costs have tripled. Photo credit: Jon Lowenstein. Courtesy of AARP Illinois.
October 3, 2012

CHICAGO - It's crunch time for thousands of Illinois elders who have less than a certain income but are not eligible for Medicaid.

They had been relying on the "Illinois Cares RX" program to help pay for prescriptions, but that program was eliminated July 1.

David Vinkler, AARP Illinois associate director, says some are just now feeling the pinch.

"An area volunteer called me the other day and said, 'I was talking to this lady who all of a sudden is having to pay for her prescription drug plan, and she doesn't know why that's happening.' "

Pharmacists say some people are still handing them their Illinois Cares RX cards, only to find out they don't work any more. Others were told at senior centers to get three months' worth of medications when the program first ended, and now they're finding their costs for medications in many cases have gone up significantly.

Vinkler says volunteers have discovered that some people who were relying on Illinois Cares RX could have qualified for Medicaid. Ultimately, that would cost a lot more for taxpayers, especially if more seniors wind up in nursing homes.

"The Illinois Cares are actually paying about $100 per month, per person. The monthly rate at a nursing home is about $3,000."

Vinkler says a lot of people living on fixed incomes calculated the cost of retirement before they got sick or needed medications - and when those prices go up, they're in a bind.

"Once you start taking into account housing costs, food costs, utility costs - these things that you have to pay on a monthly basis - and then, if you have six or seven medications, you're going to be paying more than you have coming in."

State lawmakers said they had to do something to control spiraling costs. More than 150,000 seniors and people with disabilities have lost coverage.

Vinkler says two bills that could be considered in the fall veto session would restore at least some of the prescription coverage - but it will be a short session and no one seems to be rushing to the rescue of Illinois seniors.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - IL