Pennsylvania Approves Expansion of Prescription Drug Assistance Program

yellowFrom Penn Live, written by  Wallace McKelvey

Changes to a state prescription assistance program will expand eligibility to an additional 32,000 low-income seniors.

House lawmakers voted unanimously Monday to increase income limits for the PACENET program, which hasn’t seen such a change to eligibility requirements since 2002. House Bill 2069 will next be considered by the state Senate.

“The income limits haven’t changed in 14 years,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Frank Farry, R-Bucks County. “That’s quite a long time both for seniors who are currently in the program and risk disqualification due to a change in income and for seniors who are trying to enroll in the program for the first time.”

The PACE program, which was established in 1983, has income limits set at $14,500 for a single person and $17,700 for a couple. PACENET, which came in 1996, saw its limits increase from $23,500 to $31,000 for a single person and from $31,500 to $41,000 for a couple.

Combined, they serve as a last resort for costs not already covered through federally subsidized Medicare Part D plans.

But the enactment of the Medicare Modernization Act and the failure to increase eligibility have resulted in a precipitous drop in the usage of both programs. According to Department of Aging data, the programs’ gross expenditures fell 64 percent from a peak of $553.6 million in 2005 to $200.6 million last year.

The two programs were also the subject of an audit this April that highlighted a raft of problems, including poor oversight and the propagation of no-bid contracts. The state Department of Aging, which oversees both programs, has begun its own reforms to PACE and PACENET.

On Monday, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said he was pleased to see the House’s passage of the eligibility changes and encouraged to Senate to follow suit.

“I recommended that some of the savings be used to expand access to the program so that even more of Pennsylvania’s low-income seniors could qualify for assistance,” he said, in a written statement.

A fiscal note assembled by the House Appropriations Committee estimated that the changes would result in the enrollment 32,000 new individuals over the next three years, including 24,000 in the next fiscal year.

Seniors aged 65 and over can get more information about the programs and apply online here.