Douglas plan to eliminate Rx subsidy comes under fire

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(Host) Governor Douglas’s plan to eliminate a pharmacy subsidy program for low-income elderly Vermonters is coming under fire.

Backers of the program say the governor’s proposal is shortsighted and an unethical solution to the state’s budget problems.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) If you want to understand why this proposed budget cut has become so controversial at the Statehouse, consider the case of Brenda Viens.

Viens and her husband are enrolled in a state program known as VPharm. Essentially this program fills in a number of gaps in the federal Medicare Part D prescription drug program. The couple pays the state a premium of $1,200 a year to get this coverage.

If the program were eliminated, as proposed by the governor, the Viens’s would face more than $8,000 in additional out of pocket expenses because they have a number of prescriptions.

Viens told members of the House Appropriations Committee that thousands of low income elderly Vermonters depend on the VPharm program:

(Viens) "I’m not affiliated with any organization just a plain old Vermonter that’s worked hard all her life and want to retire with dignity. My husband and I are in so much of the situations like everyone else he has several medical problems and he takes 10 prescriptions a day we are currently on the VPharm program and without that we couldn’t make it."

(Kinzel) Viens and her husband have a combined Social Security income of roughly 24 thousand dollars a year.

Without VPharm, she says they would face a number of difficult and painful options:

(Viens) "If we didn’t have this VPharm program he wouldn’t be taking all of his medications. I myself am a diabetic. One of my medications… is $526 for a three month prescription. $526. We live on a $2000 a month Social Security combined.There is no way we could ever afford to pay for medications with just that low income."

(Kinzel) Westford Rep. Martha Health is the chairwoman of the House Appropriations committee. Health doesn’t support the Governor’s cut for a very personal reason:

(Heath) "My own father was on this program he had Parkinson’s disease. I know it would have been very difficult for him to pay for his medications without this program; it was a godsend to him, so I’ll be looking for either ways to save it or a different way to make sure that these people get their medications."

(Kinzel) Douglas says he regrets proposing the cut but he says it represents one of the tough budget choices that must be made in difficult economic times.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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