State to pay for drugs after Medicare problems

Published: Friday, January 27, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 11:53 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE - Florida will temporarily pay for prescription drugs for seniors who have been unable to obtain their medicines because of computer glitches in the new Medicare prescription drug plan, Gov. Jeb Bush said Thursday.
The move comes in response to complaints by the elderly and from pharmacists that some seniors who have tried to get their drugs under the new federal Medicare benefit have been unable to show they were eligible for coverage. Many can't afford them on their own.
Bush said in Washington that he would sign an executive order to immediately begin paying for drugs for as many as 100,000 people who may have run into such problems. The help will last at least until Feb. 15, at which time Bush said kinks in the program should be worked out.
Drug coverage for millions of seniors around the country who qualify for both their state Medicaid plan and the federal Medicare program was switched from state plans to Medicare at the first of the year. But officials have been flooded with calls from seniors who have shown up at drug stores to get medicine, only to be told their names weren't in the system.
Bush said he believed the number of people who had problems with the new system in Florida was far less than 100,000. There are 400,000 people in Florida who are eligible for both programs and are now covered by the new Medicare drug benefit. Officials know about 300,000 have had no problems getting drugs, Bush said. He said many of the others probably were able to get their prescriptions with no difficulty.
"But say it's (only) 50," Bush said. "These are, in many cases, people who have complex medical needs that require prescription drugs for them to maintain their health and based on the law they should not be coming out of pocket."
Several other states had already decided to cover the cost of medication for people who are inappropriately denied coverage, with the assurance from the federal government that the states will be reimbursed. Texas Gov. Rick Perry also moved this week to have that state resume coverage for residents who were switched to Medicare but having problems.
Federal officials said this week they would reimburse states that bought medicine for senior citizens and disabled people who could not get help through the new Medicare drug benefit - a key element in Florida deciding to move forward with paying for the help.
The state Medicaid agency will carve out $57 million over two months for the plan, an agency spokesman said. It's not clear when the money will be reimbursed.
Several Democrats, including the two men seeking the party's nomination for governor, U.S. Rep. Jim Davis and state Sen. Rod Smith, had both called on Bush in recent weeks to assist those who weren't getting coverage.
Davis commended Bush for making the move but said he was "disappointed that it has taken Gov. Bush 26 days to take action."

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