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GREENVILLE, PA. Council works on drug benefits



Published: Sun, August 11, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Participants would have to pay only a semiannual administrative fee.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

GREENVILLE, Pa. -- A local, independent labor-management group is working on a plan to provide some 700 low-income retirees with free maintenance drugs for long-term health problems.

Northwest Pennsylvania Cooperation Council is in negotiations with an Ohio-based drug company that would supply the drugs to retirees of companies that are members of the council, said Dick Miller, executive director.

Most of those retirees worked for the Sharon Steel Corp. in Farrell, he said.

The council started out as the Mercer County Labor-Management Committee in 1984 with the goal of improving labor-management relations in the workplace.

Membership

Today, it has 80 company and union members in seven counties: Mercer, Crawford, Erie, Forest, Clarion, Warren and Venango.

Miller said the council does have a Medicare supplemental prescription drug plan in place for those 700 retirees now through Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, but it appears that program will be eliminated at the end of the year.

The reason

Participants are paying $170 a month for the plan with copayments of $8 for generic and $15 for name brand drugs, but their prescription coverage is unlimited, Miller said.

It's not paying for itself and is costing Highmark a lot of money, he said, estimating the insurance company is losing $1 million a year on its council clients.

The feeling is that Highmark will end the program, he said, adding that the council's leaders are trying to stay ahead of the game by arranging an alternative plan for its retirees.

Details of the plan are expected to be announced at the council's board meeting Friday but Miller said it would essentially be a mail-order system that provides 60- and 90-day supplies of maintenance drugs used for long-term health care.

It's not for a one-time prescription because someone has the flu or some other short-term ailment, he said.

The drugs would be provided free by the manufacturer in exchange for a federal tax write-off, he said.

The only payment required by recipients will be an administrative fee of perhaps $25 every six months, Miller said.

Paperwork

There is a lot of paperwork to be filled out by participants dealing with income verification and other items, he said.

The plan is limited to low-income retirees with caps set at $16,000 for a single person and $25,000 for a couple.

Participation will be limited to council members but Miller said this type of arrangement could be of benefit to other retirees down the road.




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