The State Senate passed legislation yesterday aimed at easing the sometimes desperate plight of elderly and chronically ill persons who are too poor to afford costly prescription drugs and too wealthy to qualify for public assistance.
The measure, which now goes to the House of Delegates for consideration, would provide prescription drugs to 67,000 persons whose annual incomes exceed Medicaid eligibility levels by less than $1,000. They would have to pay $1 for each prescription.
"These are people caught in a Catch 22 situation," said Sen. Rosalie S. Abrams (D-Baltimore), who sponsored the bill. "They're below the poverty level and above the Medicaid level. They are faced with the choice of buying food or drugs with their limited income."
The bill is a response to the pleas of thousands of poor elderly and disabled Marylanders whose incomes are too high to qualify for the state's medical assistance program, which provides free prescription drugs. The Medicaid income cut off is $3,300 for a family of four.
At a January hearing, several elderly persons testified that they could barely else out an existence on their fixed income and could not also afford costly drugs. The average Marylander over 62 years of age spends $60 a month for prescription drugs, according to estimates.
If the Abrams bill prevails in the House, the state health department would set up a pharmacy assistance program, which would reimburse eligible recipients for all but $1 of each prescription. A family of four would qualify if its income fell below $4,300 a year.
"This will help people in desperate straits who can't afford the drugs they need to stay alive," Abrams said after the bill passed the Senate by unanimous vote. "The bill's intention is to make sure they get the drugs they need without cutting into their food budget."
In other legislative action yesterday:
Maryland's House Delegates, by a 72-to-62 vote, rejected a Senate-approved budget amendment that would have allowed unrestricted state funding for abortions for poor women. The Senate is expected to disavow the House action today, sending the emotional abortion-funding issue to an as-yet-unappointed conference committee.
The State Senate passed, with only two dissenting votes, a measure that gives a citizen standing to sue an individual or company for causing environmental damage, even if the citizen himself is not directly hurt by the company's action. The measure now goes to the House of Delegates for consideration.
The State Senate also approved a resolution calling on the U.S. Senate to make sure that no economic harm is done to the Port of Baltimore by the votes on the Panama Canal treaties. The U.S. Senate already approved the first of these treaties two weeks ago.