ANNAPOLIS – Maryland lawmakers are rushing to fix a glitch in a law that could prevent thousands of low-income seniors on Medicare from receiving state assistance to cover the out-of-pocket costs of medication.
Under the Maryland Senior Prescription Drug Assistance Plan, low-income seniors who are registered for Medicare can receive assistance to help them pay insurance deductibles that are not covered by Medicare Part D, the federal government’s new prescription drug plan.
But the state plan, which resulted from legislation passed last year in the Maryland General Assembly, did not anticipate the bewildering variety of prescription drug plans available under Part D.
“We have discovered that we have some glitches with that legislation,” said Richard Popper, the executive director of the Maryland Health Insurance Plan the state program that administers the drug assistance program.
As the state law currently reads, the 35,000 people covered by the subsidy program may be cut off from state subsidies that previously helped them cover their pharmacy costs.
To remedy the situation, Senator Thomas M. Middleton, D-Charles, has sponsored a bill that would correct the error and possibly provide recipients with state-issued cards that could be used at pharmacies to pay for drugs.
As it is currently structured, Maryland’s assistance plan covers only the out-of-pocket costs of people who have to pay a prescription deductible under Medicare Part D.
But some Medicare plans do not require people to pay for deductibles. Seniors registered for one of these plans would be ineligible for the state assistance under the current law.
Popper said he was told that this was “discriminatory” and therefore illegal by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that administers Medicare.
The new bill would fix this problem by expanding the state program to help people pay their drug copays and other out-of-pocket prescription costs, Popper said.
He said the program would no longer be discriminatory since all enrolled seniors would be eligible for aid.
Seniors enrolled in the program might receive cards that they could use along with their Medicare benefit cards to help cover their pharmacy costs, he said.
The state’s new assistance plan launched Wednesday replaces the previous state subsidy plan that ended on Tuesday.
Individuals who are enrolled in Medicare and have an income of less than $28,710 are eligible for assistance under the new plan. Couples who have an income less than $38,490 are eligible. The Senate Finance Committee hopes to vote on the final version of the emergency bill Thursday.