Seniors Gather at Statehouse to Protest Medicaid Cuts

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(Host) Several hundred older Vermonters came to the Statehouse on Tuesday to urge lawmakers not to make cuts in the state’s pharmaceutical assistance program. They called on the Legislature to increase the state cigarette tax by at least 67 cents as a way to finance their plan.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Elizabeth Peterson of Montpelier joined with several hundred other members of the Vermont Chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons to let lawmakers know what the personal impact of proposed budget cuts in the state’s drug assistance program will be.

Peterson, who is 81, and her husband David, who is 86, take seven different prescription drugs for a variety of medical conditions. They’re part of a state program that pays 50% of their drug costs. Last year their out-of-pocket expenses were roughly $3,000.

Peterson is very concerned about a Medicaid reform bill that is backed by Republican leaders in the House. Her concern centers on a provision that would require her to pay a $1,000 deductible before the state’s 50% share would apply. Peterson says the plan would cause severe problems for her family:

(Peterson) “…With the other expenses going along with our diseases besides medicine, that we’re running a little short and would be very hard if we had to pay the full bill. We would probably have to try to start traveling to Canada again, which we did one time. And they had most of the medicines, but several of them they didn’t actually carry so we had to buy them here anyway. So it’s very hard to manage.”

(Kinzel) At midday, the several hundred members of AARP sat on the steps of the Statehouse in a hot sun to hear Governor Howard Dean talk about this issue. Dean told the group that he wants to raise the cigarette tax by more than a dollar – a move that would eliminate the need to make cuts in the Medicaid program:

(Dean) “My goal is to have Vermont have the highest cigarette taxes in the United States of America. Right now, New York and Washington are $1.50. We should be at $1.50 and that means a $1.06 increase, instead of 67 cents. And if we had that we might not have to make any cuts at all in the Medicaid and the prescription drug programs.”

(Kinzel) The Medicaid reform bill increases the cigarette tax by 36 cents but Democrats say that increase is not enough and they are expected to try to boost the tax by at least 67 cents on Wednesday.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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