Local residents ready for plan to lower cost of prescription drugs

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 30, 2000

Opal Jackson isn’t surprised members of Congress are interested in finding a way to lower prescription drug costs for seniors.

Jackson, a Natchez resident and a regular attendee at the Natchez Senior Citizen Multi-Purpose Center, faces those high costs every month.

&uot;Your check doesn’t go up but the prices keep going up,&uot; she said, referring to her fixed income on Social Security.

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On Wednesday, House Republicans passed a bill to create a new Medicare benefit to pay for prescription drugs. The House plan, which may have dubious success in the Senate, would cost $40 billion over five years and would rely on a blend of private insurance companies and federal subsidies to spread payment nationwide.

A separate Democrat-sponsored plan would create a uniform, government-run prescription drug benefit offered to all 39 million elderly and disabled Medicare beneficiaries, at a higher price tag of $100 billion over five years.

Jackson is luckier than many seniors paying high costs for drugs – she is reimbursed each year for medical costs by her late husband’s veterans benefits.

&uot;If I didn’t have that I don’t know what I’d do,&uot; she said.

Since she isn’t paid for medications until the end of the year, she sometimes has to go without all but the necessary medications. Jackson pays about $55 a month for her essential medications – and more if she becomes ill.

Natchez pharmacist Michael Winn has seen some customers forced to choose between needed prescription and other essentials.

&uot;We see patients from time to time who have to decide between medication and paying rent,&uot; said Winn, who is glad the government is trying to lower costs for seniors.

Winn hasn’t had a chance to examine the different plans proposed, but he said the Democratic plan seems to offer more to Medicare recipients than the GOP plan.

&uot;It’s all about affordability,&uot; he said.

And while some people fault drug companies for the high costs, Winn knows their argument is the high cost of research and development. And Winn said he worries adding heavy price controls could hamper the open market system.

Still, &uot;I do think somebody needs to do something,&uot; he said.