Clip files | Local news from the states

Seniors saving big on state’s drug plan

PHOENIX—More than 45,000 seniors and disabled Arizonans have saved $3.2 million on prescription drugs in the year since Gov. Janet Napolitano launched her program to deal with expensive but necessary medication. The state program added 30,000 seniors since eliminating its enrollment fee in January. But the number of participants remains smaller than what the governor expected when the program began last June. Continued growth is expected to be tested by lack of advertising and confusion surrounding a new federal Medicare drug program. The concept is simple. Participants use discount cards at more than 500 pharmacies to get reduced rates on generic and brand-name prescription drugs. Critics say the plan does not help most seniors in the lowest income levels and scant advertising has kept a large chunk of eligible seniors from hearing about the program.—Arizona Republic, June 8

Oregon Health Plan to drop some copays

PORTLAND, OR—Five homeless people and their pro bono lawyer have successfully sued Oregon over a policy of charging a copayment of $2 for prescription drugs and $5 for doctors visits for some Medicaid patients. The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that affects 50,700 people in the so-called standard population of the Oregon Health Plan was Elizabeth Spry, a resident of the Dignity Village homeless camp in Portland. The four other plaintiffs also live at the camp. According to the ruling, the state was required to eliminate a $250 copay for hospital visits for the standard population, mostly single adults and childless couples earning less than the federal poverty level. "These are incredibly impoverished people," said Ellen Pinney, director of the Oregon Health Action Campaign, a health care reform group. "The level of copays on this population was excessive." The copays and a monthly premium that still will be charged had become a battleground between the state and advocates for low-income people, who said even the small payments showed a misunderstanding of poverty and were bad social policy that cost the public sector far more than it saved.—AP/Salem Statesman-Journal, June 9

Medicaid premiums for children delayed

SEATTLE—Washington Gov. Gary Locke has postponed a long-pending move to charge monthly premiums for children enrolled in Medicaid, extending free health coverage for 60,000 low-income Washington kids for at least one more year. But premium increases for an additional 10,000 higher-income children enrolled in a related insurance program were to take effect as planned in July. The reprieve for children on Medicaid came after dozens of hospitals and children’s advocacy groups lobbied the governor for months, contending that even modest premiums would leave more children uninsured and in worse health. At the same time, stricter eligibility rules adopted by the state last year and increased paperwork for recipients have driven thousands of children off Medicaid’s rolls, saving the state much more money than it stood to collect in new premiums. —Seattle Times, June 9