As the city's independence pharmacists continued their strike against D. C.'S Medicaid program yesterday, many of those affected -- especially the elderly -- relied on friends and relatives to get prescription filled.
The poor and elderly sought assistance in finding drugstores not participating in the strike. The striking independent pharmacists have refused to fill the prescriptions until the District agrees to grant the druggist a 10 percent rate increase.
Some of the elderly persons interviewed said they could understand the frustrations of the druggists.
"I don't blame them," said Evelyn Neal, 63, who lives in a city-run senior citizens building at 410 M St. SE. "It takes months for the government to pay them, from what I've heard.
"Medicaid is the slowest. My doctor won't take any more Medicaid patients.I mean at least the cab driver got [a raise], Neal said.
City officials and strike leaders gave conflicting estimates yesterday of the number of druggists involved in the protest.
Albert P. Russo, director of the D.C. Department of Human Resourses, said 40 percent of the city's 75 independents were involved. Strike leader Dale Morton estimated that the numbers of strikers was close to 80 or 85 percent.
Medicaid is the joint local and federal program that pays health care expenses for about 118,000 District residents. Most of these persons are welfare recipients, such as mothers in the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program. Most elderly people are part of the Medicare progeam, but some receive Medicaid program benefits.
The striking druggists are asking for a 10 percent cost of living increase in the $2.59 fee they now receive for each prescription filled. The city also pays the costs of the drugs used in filling the prescription
City officials contend there is no money available for a fee increase now. Although funds have been requested for a fee increase beginning next year. Sources said it is unlikely the city will grant the druggists' request before then.
Many of the elderly, though, have been spared the brunt of the strike because they already patronize large chain drugstores not involved in the protest or, because of their limited mobility, have made arrangements with others to pick up their prescriptions.
Mabel Griffin, 66 said "Peoples [Drug Stores] is where I get my prescription filled. It's about 10 blocks away." Griffin is partially blind and usually has someone else take her to the store.
One resident at the Roosevelt Hotel for senior citizens, 2101 16th St. NW, said, "I usually got to Dart [Drug] or Peoples. Drugstores are so expensive. You get a 10 percent discount from the larger stores. That's a lot of money."
Yesterday, Morton, the strike leader, accused the city's Human Resources Department of attempting to intimidate strikers by calling pharmacists and telling them that the District government was compiling a list of those accepting Medicaid prescriptions. Morton implied that he feared represals against those taking part in the strike.
City officials said they were compiling the list primarily as a guide for physicians who wanted to know which pharmacies would still accept Medicaid prescriptions.
Richard A. Butler, a pharmacist at the Shaw Community Health Center, 1707 7th St. NW, said he expected an increase in Medicaid patients, even though he would have to give priority to those persons who are part of the private center's regular program.
"[But] at least they have an option," Butler said of the others. "They can come to us or go to [a larger store]. They're not totally lost." CAPTION: Picture, Evelyn Neal 63, said she thought Medicaid reimbursed pharmacists too slowly. By Fred Sweets -- The Washington Post