Governor Changes His Mind On Medicare Rebate Checks

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(Host) The Douglas Administration has changed its mind about asking senior citizens to send their upcoming Medicare rebate checks to the state.

Last week, the Administration said it wanted the money. But the Governor now says getting the checks back would be an administrative nightmare, and so he’s decided to back down.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The $250 federal rebates are designed to help seniors offset some of the costs they incur with a gap in Medicare drug coverage known as the donut hole.

Because Vermont is one of the few states in the country that has a drug assistance plan in place to cover these costs for low and middle income seniors, Governor Douglas thinks the state is entitled to the rebate money.

But Douglas says trying to put a system in place to get the money posed an enormous challenge so he’s decided to let all seniors keep their rebate checks:

(Douglas) "Some seniors would get the entire $250 as a duplicate benefit, others would only get a portion of it.  It depends on which of our pharmacy programs they participate in. The premium structure, the re-imbursement structure is different for each, and frankly it’s just too much trouble administratively to try to make that happen."

(Kinzel) But Douglas made it clear that he’s not pleased by this situation:

(Douglas) "It’s disappointing in the long run, though, because this seems to be how Washington works. Double dipping is the result of this on the part of some of our beneficiaries.  Congress appropriated money to cover a benefit that the state taxpayers already pay for.  Maybe that’s why we’re $13 trillion in debt."

(Kinzel) Vermont’s congressional delegation urged Douglas to reconsider his position. Senator Bernie Sanders:

(Sanders) "You’re looking at people who are old, who are sick, who are poor, and then the state is going to say ‘I’m sorry, you’re going to have to return it to the state’. I think it’s going to cause a lot of confusion, I think it’s going to cause pain and I just don’t think it’s the right thing to do."                                                                                      

(Kinzel) And Sanders says seniors enrolled in the state program still have a number of expenses.

(Sanders) "Who are paying premiums into this program, who on occasion pay co-payments, who have perhaps out of pocket drug costs and they’re getting a check for $250 from the federal government to help them with these expenses. I think it’s reasonable to allow them to keep that money."

(Kinzel) The governor says his decision will leave a roughly $700,000 hole in the state budget, a hole he says that will have to be filled in the coming months.

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

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