Legislators, Medicaid patients react to budget plan

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(Host) Key lawmakers say they’ll take a close look at how the governor’s proposed budget will affect low income people on state health care programs. Senior citizens are concerned that the planned cuts may make it harder for them to afford prescription drugs.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Governor Jim Douglas says he’s built a compassionate budget that spares the most needy. At her home in Barre, Myrtle Allard, who turns 87 on Friday, is worried about cuts in the state’s prescription drug assistance program:

(Allard) “Seems to me they could cut somewhere else and leave us poor old people that has worked all our life and paid taxes all our life. Seems to me he could do a little bit better for us.”

(Dillon) Douglas wants to limit spending on Medicaid prescription drug benefits in order to avert a potential deficit. For Allard, the changes may mean she’ll have to pay more for the 16 pills she takes every day.

Chris Shaw, a caseworker from the central Vermont Council on Aging, tells Allard how the program may change:

(Shaw, speaking to Allard) “So you could be paying, like over the next year, you might have to pay as much as $1,000 a year toward your medicine. And that won’t include the price of getting it delivered. That’s just for the medicine.”
(Allard) “Uh-huh.”

(Dillon) Shaw says even before the proposed cuts, people find it hard to afford their prescriptions:

(Shaw) “And we have people now who have to come to us in order to get help to pay their co-pays. And that’s with $3 and $6 co-pays. If co-pays are higher and deductibles are higher, I don’t know where the money will come from to pay that. And people now go without their meds on a regular basis now, because they don’t have their co-pays.”

(Dillon) The Douglas budget would increase the deductibles and out of pocket payments that low income people pay for prescription drugs. In the Statehouse, lawmakers have just begun to examine the details of the governor’s proposal. Senator Susan Bartlett is a Lamoille County Democrat who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee:

(Bartlett) “I am not interested in difficult financial times in balancing this budget on the backs of low income, hardworking Vermonters, of people that are disabled. I’m not interested in programs that sound good, like, ‘Well we’re going to change to a deductible system and you pay the first $650 deductible,’ and these people can’t pay their rent.”

(Dillon) Bartlett says she likes Douglas’s plan to increase spending on economic development and assistance to farmers. However, she says she’s concerned that proposed cuts at the Agency of Natural Resources could undermine the state’s effort to reform the environmental permitting process.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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