ANNAPOLIS – Delegate Joan F. Stern, D-Montgomery, is sponsoring a bill to give a tax credit to seniors who don’t have prescription drug coverage.
One of the many initiatives Maryland legislators are considering to alleviate cost and access problems with prescription drugs, Stern’s proposal is original in that it targets middle-class seniors.
“This is really going to help middle-class retired people,” said Stern, adding that Marylanders with very low incomes won’t be affected by her proposal.
However, the fact that this bill would require seniors to pay for drugs out-of-pocket before they get reimbursed is a critical point for some.
“There are barriers whenever you have to pay money out-of-pocket up front,” said Alan Lyles, University of Baltimore associate professor of public affairs. “The design of it doesn’t remove that potential barrier to adherence to treatment.”
While the proposal is a move in the right direction, more needs to be done, Lyles said.
“I think it’s wonderful,” said Pearl L. Lewis, a volunteer health advocate. “Truly nobody has income enough to pay for drugs,” said Lewis.
If passed, Marylanders 62 and older, who pay taxes and don’t have prescription drug coverage, could receive an income tax credit up to $1,000 and equal to 50 percent of their drug expenses for the year.
About a third of all seniors lack drug coverage, according to a report by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. By January, 67,000 Maryland seniors will have lost their Medicare prescription drug coverage. Three of four health maintenance organizations providing Medicare drug coverage in Maryland will drop out of the program by next year because federal reimbursements aren’t covering their costs.
Charles Culbertson, 73, would qualify for the proposed tax credit, although he wouldn’t benefit from it since he’s not taking any prescription medicines now and hopes it will stay that way.
Culbertson, of Towson, president of the United Seniors of Maryland and member of the Governor’s Prescription Drug Buy-In study group, said it is important to get drug relief for middle-income seniors, “who don’t have the benefit of Pharmacy Assistance and Medicaid programs.”
Eileen Freedman, 65, said she spends at least $2,000 for prescription drugs each year.
“I always take the best plan they have,” the Baltimore resident said of her insurance. Even so, it never has included coverage for medication. “Any prescription I get, I have to pay . . . It’s tough.”
Freedman said she would be able to take full advantage of the proposed tax credit, since she pays more than $1,000 in income tax. She also said she was glad legislators understood that the cost of prescription drugs is prohibitive for many seniors, not just those in the lower income levels.
“That could make you broke, too…if you’ve got high prescriptions, what’s the difference?” said Freedman.