ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland House of Delegates unanimously approved a bill Friday to ease the rising costs of prescriptions drugs for poor, uninsured people and the elderly.
The decision came three days after the Senate approved its own prescription drug coverage measure.
“This was definitely needed,” said Delegate Joanne Benson, D-Prince George’s. “The state, with all its wealth, has an obligation to find a way to help these senior citizens and young mothers. I am just delighted and excited. It’s very dear to my heart.”
The Senior Prescription Drug Relief Act would add about $30 million to Medbank, the Maryland Pharmacy Discount Program and Short-Term Drug Subsidy Program.
Residents on the Eastern Shore, Southern Maryland/Anne Arundel County and the Washington suburbs will have access to a nearby Medbank, which will provide access to free prescription drugs for eligible individuals. Medbank is now in Western Maryland and Baltimore County.
Seniors without prescription drug coverage and all individuals at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level are covered under the Maryland Pharmacy Discount Program. The federal poverty level is $8,590.
Eligible individuals would pay 82 percent of the Medicaid price for prescription drugs, according to the bill. Those people below 130 percent could purchase drugs for 25 percent of the Medicaid rate. This is pending a waiver from the Health Care Financing Administration.
The bill mandates the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to study the possibility of individuals purchasing drugs through a local health department. The report is due Dec. 1. It also requires the comptroller to examine giving a tax credit to those individuals who are above 300 percent of the federal poverty level and spend a certain amount on prescription drugs.
U.S. drug spending grew more rapidly than other health spending in the 1990s, according to a report last year from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The annual rate of increase in prescription drug expenditures increased from 10.6 percent in 1995 to 14.1 percent in 1997.
Delegate Dan Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, said the problem of prescription drug coverage has grown more significant over the years. Morhaim, an emergency room physician, said the solution is to “provide insurance that allows proper coverage at different income levels.”
The House and Senate bills differ only slightly. Both include expanding Medbank and adding funds to the Maryland Pharmacy Assistance Program. The Senate bill increases the income limit for the Maryland Pharmacy Assistance Program from 116 percent of the federal poverty level to 120 percent.
Differences between the bills will be worked out in a conference committee.
“I supported it,” said Delegate Salima Marriott, D-Baltimore. “Basically I believe in universal health coverage. Any steps we take moving in that direction, I’m delighted.”