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Excitement builds for senior benefit plan



Published: Mon, February 17, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



The prescription drug discount program should get off the ground next month.

& lt;a href=mailto:bjackson@vindy.com & gt;By BOB JACKSON & lt;/a & gt;

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County's prescription assistance plan is finally more than just plans and promises.

Kerry Collins, director of the county's council on aging, said final touches are being put on the program, which is set to begin in mid-March.

The program will bring financial relief to senior citizens who find the high cost of prescription medicines a bitter pill to swallow. Collins said many of the county's elderly have been eagerly waiting since commissioners announced the program last year.

"Now they're getting pretty excited," Collins said, noting that the voice-mail in her office is filled every day with people calling to find out when the program will get going.

"God bless them for being patient."

Collins said the rising cost of prescriptions is the primary concern among the county's senior population.

Program's aim

The program is aimed at helping seniors get discounts on prescriptions through the drug companies. It's been developed by the commissioners, through their special projects office and the council on aging.

The local program will be similar to ones in place in Ashtabula and Trumbull counties.

Collins said Mahoning County has the fourth-highest population in Ohio of people 65 and older at 45,729, which accounts for about 17.75 percent of the county's total population. Many of them are not eligible for Medicaid and cannot otherwise afford the medications they need.

With most of them on fixed incomes and the cost of just about everything going up, they have precious little money left over for prescriptions. If they do buy medicine, they have to cut other necessities like food. Either way, it's a hardship.

"This is really their only hope," she said.

Application assistance

Collins said most major pharmaceutical companies offer discounts of 10 percent to 50 percent for prescription medicines, but customers have to apply to get them. The application process, though, is often complicated and confusing.

With the prescription assistance program, trained staff will assist seniors in completing the applications. Seniors will be limited to applying for three prescription discounts apiece, Collins said.

"These applications are so cumbersome that otherwise it would just take too long to process them," she said.

The program is for long-term prescriptions only, not for short-term medicines like antibiotics.

Commissioner Ed Reese said response to the program has been exceptional.

If it's successful, and more money becomes available, commissioners might eventually try to expand it.

Commissioners appropriated $40,000 from sales tax revenue last month to help get the program started. St. Elizabeth Health Center and St. Elizabeth Development Foundation contributed $30,000, and Catholic Charities Regional Agency donated $10,000.

The money will pay for the computer software to run the program, and allow it to have a permanent office at 1001 Belmont Ave. That's one of the places seniors will be able to go for help with discount applications.

Others will be St. Elizabeth Health Center and the Youngstown Senior Center. The Youngstown Visiting Nurses Association will also provide assistance, and other satellite sites will be added later, Collins said.

Because it takes so long to complete and process the applications, seniors will be encouraged to schedule appointments rather than simply walking in to one of the assistance sites, Collins said.

& lt;a href=mailto:bjackson@vindy.com & gt;bjackson@vindy.com & lt;/a & gt;




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