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Senior citizens rally for expanded prescription drug coverage

| Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2003

HARRISBURG (AP) -- Supporters of a plan to expand Pennsylvania's prescription drug programs for the elderly rallied in the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday in the hopes of spurring the state Senate to vote on the bill.

The measure, which was passed unanimously by the House in June, represents the Legislature's effort to carry out Gov. Ed Rendell's proposal to increase income eligibility limits for the Pharmaceutical Assistance Contract for the Elderly programs, commonly known as PACE and PACENET.

The legislation has been stalled in the Senate because Republican Leader David J. Brightbill of Lebanon County has said he wants to wait until Congress has resolved its debate over a complex Medicare prescription drug coverage bill.

Rendell said that although he expects the bill to be modified by the Senate, "the time to act is now."

"Are you tired of waiting• Is there anybody here who's worried that our life span may end before those guys in Washington act?" he said.

Ray Landis, legislative director for the state AARP, noted that during a Senate committee hearing on the bill last month, federal Medicare administrator Thomas Scully sought to allay concerns that Pennsylvania would risk losing federal funding if it expanded PACE and PACENET.

"We're not going to be penalized for that," Landis said.

The Senate Aging and Youth Committee has scheduled another hearing on the bill for Sept. 29.

Erik Arneson, an aide to Brightbill, said that while the senator would still prefer to wait for Congress to pass its legislation, he also wants to ensure that the expanded coverage is in place as of Jan. 1 -- the date set by the House bill -- regardless of what happens at the federal level.

Under the House bill, the income limits for participants in PACE, which has no deductible, would increase from $14,000 to $14,500 for individuals and from $17,200 to $17,700 for married couples.

The income limits for PACENET, a related program for seniors with higher incomes that kicks in after participants pay the first $500 of their drug costs each year, would change from $17,000 to $22,500 for individuals and from $20,200 to $30,500 for couples.

Additionally, the PACENET deductible would be changed from $500 annually to $40 per month.

Rendell has estimated that the new income levels would qualify an additional 300,000 seniors for PACE and PACENET benefits, although state officials expect only one-third of them to enroll.

The bill also would increase the co-payment amounts that PACE recipients must pay from $6 per prescription to $8 per prescription for name-brand drugs. PACENET participants have a higher co-payment, which would not change.

The increased co-payments are among several ways the state would cover the $320 million, five-year cost of Rendell's plan. It would also be funded by increased state lottery revenue; larger rebates from drug manufacturers; and new restrictions on doctors and pharmacists.

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