By Ramona Du Houx

March 24, 2011
Maine State Senator Margaret Craven, of Lewiston, expressed concerns about the defunding of the Drugs for the the Elderly Program (DEL) during yesterday’s work session in the Health and Human Services Committee. Governor LePage has proposed budget cuts to a Fund for a Healthy Maine, including a $14.8 million cut from DEL, which will, in turn, trigger a loss of $30 million in matching funds from the federal government—the largest federal match the state receives.

“Cuts this deep neglect the very Mainers who are our parents, grandparents, and neighbors.” said Sen. Craven, the Democratic Lead on the Health and Human Services Committee. “This is another dagger in the hearts of our seniors and now these cuts twist the handle.”

DEL covers seniors or disabled adults people whose income is 185% of the federal poverty level (FPL) or $19,000 annually for a single person. The Governor has proposed changing the eligibility from 185% to 133% of FPL or $14,484 for a single person. The matching funds also allow Maine to buy into the Medicare Savings Plan (MSP) for nearly 48,000 people who are dual eligible for Medicare and Medicaid by providing coverage for Part B and eliminating out of pocket costs for deductibles, co-pays, and premiums.

“These cuts are very short sighted,” said Sen. Justin Alfond, Assistant Democratic Leader. “The impact is that the elderly will get sicker and end up in hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living at a greater expense to the tax payer.”

Part B covers doctor’s appointments, outpatient and prevention care, and screenings as well as many other services. The change in eligibility means that in order for individuals with an income of $14,485 to get the same coverage, it would cost at least $1,600 per year plus the cost of co-pays and deductibles. Because of the so-called donut hole, many Maine seniors will not get the prescription drugs they need.

“Many seniors and disabled adults cannot afford this change and will be forced to go without their drugs and doctor’s appointments,” said Craven. “This will put an enormous strain on the families of the elderly. And those who don’t have family to help support them will be left with nothing.”

A Fund for a Healthy Maine also provides funding for a variety of health care and prevention programs from substance abuse treatment, school health programs, prescription drugs for the elderly, and dental care.

The Committee continues to hold work sessions on the proposed budget and will likely take a vote next week, at which point the committee’s recommendations will be sent to the Appropriations’ Committee.