End of prescription program pinches seniors
By Tina Akouris firstname.lastname@example.org September 13, 2012 4:18PM
Community Reource Worker Kathy Ellinger explains the Illinois Cares Rx choices in this photo illustration at the Will County Senior Center in Joliet, Illinois, Tuesday, August 14, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 15, 2012 9:18AM
Jean Andrysiak works four hours a week at Kohl’s in Downers Grove, driving to and from her home in Bolingbrook where she has lived since 1972. But Andrysiak, 72, has worked there about 12 years and recently got her hours cut from about 20 to 30 a week down to single digits.
Besides her Kohl’s income, she gets about $1,277 in Social Security each month and has reduced her household expenses to the bare minimum, spending just enough for gas and groceries.
Andrysiak’s financial situation was tense even with help from the Illinois Cares Rx prescription drug plan for senior citizens. But with the plan’s elimination in late June, Andrysiak’s financial status — along with that of many other Illinois seniors — took a dire turn.
Andrysiak has asthma and heart issues, which require her to take 13 prescriptions daily. The most expensive is Advair, an inhaler that helps control her asthma — and costs $298 a month. It was only $15 under Illinois Cares Rx and Andrysiak also was paying about $200 monthly for all 13 medications under the program.
Andrysiak isn’t the only senior who is suffering financially since state lawmakers killed the program.
Marge Tupman, who is a resource manager at the Will County Senior Center in Joliet, sees some married couples who have 30 to 40 prescriptions between them.
“When the program started six years ago I wondered, ‘Can this be sustainable?’ ” Tupman said. “We heard in May (eliminating) the program was a possibility and we asked seniors to call their state reps and be heard.”
Whether or not many seniors who get help from the center made those calls and wrote those letters doesn’t matter. What matters is that when the Illinois Department on Aging sent out letters at the end of June notifying seniors that their Illinois Cares Rx coverage was eliminated. Shock and rage ensued.
The whole point of Illinois Cares Rx was to cover prescription drugs used in the treatment of at least 10 diseases — arthritis, cancer, diabetes and smoking-related illnesses, to name a few — and to pay a portion of the co-payments seniors incurred if enrolled in a corresponding Medicare Part D plan.
Without Illinois Cares Rx, not only do seniors have to pay more for their drugs but they also have to pay a monthly premium for their Medicare Part D drug coverage. Most monthly premiums are under $30, and that seems like a small amount, but for seniors on a fixed income, any extra expenses are felt quickly and harshly.
William Tieman, 73, of Joliet is a diabetic and has had a triple bypass. He used to pay $30 a month for his insulin shots, but now Tieman is on the hook for up to $200 for the same period.
“I talked to my doctor and got a generic, which could be cheaper but it is still expensive and I’m trying to cut every corner,” Tieman said. “My doctor has helped and I hate to ask him to give me samples. But he says there is nothing he can do about (the high cost of drugs).”
With the added expenses of paying for their drugs, some seniors may opt not to take the most expensive ones or at least cut back on the dosage. While it may work for some, folks like Andrysiak tried it with serious consequences.
“I landed in the hospital for a week,” Andrysiak said of her experiment. “My doctor did put me on a hardship (plan) and he’ll give me samples. But I still have anxiety of how I’m going to pay for it.”
Tieman also opted not to take one of his prescriptions. He said his doctor wants him to take Vitamin D, but even an over-the-counter bottle is too expensive for Tieman’s budget so he has eliminated that drug.
Besides just not taking their pills, some seniors have chosen to get half prescriptions that are slightly cheaper. Tieman said he takes a half prescription of Lyrica which costs about $75 monthly.
Tamara Lenczycki, 63, is a diabetic, and has heart, cholesterol and mental health issues. Like Tieman, she has resorted to getting half prescriptions filled. Seroquel is the most expensive on Lenczycki’s list and she spends about $200 for only 30 pills, but she used to spend only $2 for her heart medication.
“I’m all confused,” said Lenczycki, who gets a little over $1,000 a month in Social Security. “I don’t understand any of this. I can’t give up these drugs because I will end up in the hospital.”
Another option some have considered — but may not resort to — is moving in with their grown children and their families. In homes that are probably bursting at the seams, some adult children may have to take in their parents who won’t be able to afford to pay for their prescription drugs or financially afford to live on their own.
It is a safe option to move in with family, but a lot of seniors want to be independent. Living with relatives or in assisted living centers or nursing homes just doesn’t cut it.
“I’d rather be independent and not move in with my children,” Andrysiak said. “I would tell (Gov. Pat Quinn) to come down to our level and see how he likes it.”
Seniors can find other Part D plans during an open enrollment period. There is another open enrollment period beginning Oct. 15 and running through the end of the year. There also is the Coast2Coast Rx plan available through township governments or by visiting www.coast2coastrx.com. Seniors can print a free card just by submitting their 10-digit phone number or any 10-digit number.