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Governor Gregoire Signs Legislation to Help Seniors, Others Afford Prescription Drugs

For Immediate Release: February 2, 2007

Governor’s requested legislation covers gap in payment of federal drug co-pay

OLYMPIA – Governor Chris Gregoire today signed into law a measure that will close holes in prescription drug coverage for seniors and other vulnerable individuals, left when the US Congress passed the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003. Introduced at Governor Gregoire’s request, House Bill 1095 continues to allow the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to use available funds to pay the prescription drug co-pays for people who are enrolled in the new Medicare prescription drug program, Part D.

“I continue to urge Congress and the administration to repeal this misguided policy, but we simply cannot wait for the federal government to respond,” said Governor Gregoire. “This is why today we are taking steps to make sure that our seniors living on fixed incomes don’t get stiffed with an additional bill. It is the right thing to do.”

The federal Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 requires that people covered by both Medicare and Medicaid (“dual eligibles”) obtain their drug coverage through Medicare Part D. They will be charged a co-pay of between $1 and $5 on each prescription. Prior to this requirement, they received prescriptions through the Medicaid program without a co-pay.

Each month, the approximately 95,000 Washingtonians who are “dual eligibles” take an average of seven prescriptions each and some take 15 or more. With many getting by on an income of $580 or less, these co-payments were financially devastating to many seniors and can be a barrier to health. Changes in Medicare have been a challenge to Washingtonians who found themselves having to split, skip or go completely without life-saving medications.

Last February, Governor Gregoire directed DSHS to work with Washington pharmacists to find a way for the state to cover the cost of the new federal drug co-pays. She then successfully obtained new federal funding.

HB 1095, sponsored by Representative Don Barlow (D-Spokane), will allow DSHS to continue these payments, providing security and access to health care for our most vulnerable citizens.

“I urge Congress to address this issue long-term by either repealing the co-pay requirement for dual eligibles, or providing a federal match to states willing to share these costs,” said Governor Gregoire. “In the meantime, we will not allow our citizens to suffer and I will continue to work with Senators Cantwell and Murray and the entire Washington delegation to ensure that all Washingtonians are able to receive the health care they need and deserve.”

The bill passed the House with 92 votes and passed the Senate with 43 votes. It takes effect July 1, 2007.