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Seniors protest cuts to coverage

State budget takes $10m from prescription plan

Joan Barchard was among the seniors protesting the cuts to the state’s prescription coverage plan in Dorchester yesterday. About 30 members of the Massachusetts Senior Action Council took part in the protest. Joan Barchard was among the seniors protesting the cuts to the state’s prescription coverage plan in Dorchester yesterday. About 30 members of the Massachusetts Senior Action Council took part in the protest. (Maisie Crow for The Boston Globe)
By Tara Ballenger
Globe Correspondent / July 10, 2009
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When Ann Stewart made her way to the front of the line at the pharmacy counter of a Mattapan Walgreen’s in January, she expected to pay the same price for her two medications as she had every month for more than a year: $18 each.

Instead, the total came to $148 for eye drops to control her glaucoma and $146 for a 30-day supply of diabetes medication.

Faced with a fixed monthly budget, she decided to buy the eye drops and forgo the diabetes medicine until she could talk to her doctor about finding a cheaper pill.

Stewart, 85, was one of about 44,000 Bay State seniors who lost coverage because of cuts made to the Prescription Advantage program in October last year, when funding was cut from $57 million to $50 million.

Last week, Governor Deval Patrick signed a budget that cut another $10 million from the program for fiscal year 2010.

To protest the cuts, Stewart, along with about 30 other members of the Massachusetts Senior Action Council, a statewide advocacy group, stood on all four corners of the busy intersection of Columbia Road and Blue Hill Avenue in Dorchester yesterday.

Holding signs that read “Keep Us Covered,’’ about five of the participants wore hospital gowns over their clothes to emphasize their point about coverage.

“Of course, these are challenging financial times, and some difficult budget decisions needed to be made,’’ said Jennifer Kritz, spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, the state department that administers Prescription Advantage and other programs for seniors through its Executive Office of Elder Affairs.

Kritz said that how the $10 million in new cuts will be made to the program is still being discussed.

“At this point, our goal is to minimize the impact on elders participating in the program as much as possible,’’ she said.

When the cuts from last fall went into effect in January, tens of thousand of seniors who had been receiving support from Prescription Advantage to pay their Medicare Part D copayments became ineligible for that benefit. Instead, they had to wait until the retail cost of their drugs exceeded $2,700 to get the extra help.

Carolyn Villers, executive director of the Massachusetts Senior Action Council, said that even though it is too late to influence the state budget, she hopes seniors will have a say in how the cuts are implemented and that the rally raises awareness about how the cuts affect real people in Massachusetts.

“The reality is, when people can’t afford the pills they need, they get very sick’’ and can end up in the hospital, said Villers.