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Governor Bob Riley should be commended for including the SenioRx Program in his proposed state budget. Now, we call on legislators to follow the Governor’s lead and protect this valuable program by vo

Gov. Riley warned Alabamians that drastic cuts would be made in the state budget if Amendment 1, his accountability and tax reform plan, failed to pass. Those cuts will be evident in the upcoming year’s budget and many state programs may be downsized or eliminated.

But, of the many programs that protect and benefit our state’s seniors, SenioRx is among the most valuable. Every day low-income seniors must make choices. Many times the choice is between food and medicine. At AARP Alabama, often we hear stories of seniors halving doses, or starting and stopping medicines as their cash flow allows. SenioRx is having a profoundly positive impact on that situation.

The program is a partnership of state agencies and community organizations combining forces with physicians and pharmaceutical companies to help Alabamians age 60-plus obtain free or discounted medicines. To qualify, seniors can’t have prescription insurance coverage and must live at below 200% of the poverty level.

Through SenioRx, those seniors apply to drug assistance programs sponsored by pharmaceutical manufacturers. The only cost to the state is administrative – we are utilizing programs already in place through the manufacturers, and our return is millions of dollars in free prescriptions.

But, the savings can’t be measured in drugs alone. When seniors have access to much-needed prescriptions, chronic illnesses are less likely to accelerate into life-threatening illnesses. When preventative medicines are available, not only are specific conditions prevented, associated illnesses are less likely to develop. By funding this one program, the state will likely save millions of associated costs, such as Medicaid-funded care.

Predicting the preventable costs of regular prescriptive therapy would be difficult, but the Department of Senior Services is actively tracking the number of Alabamians helped, the number of prescriptions obtained through the program and the actual cost of those drugs our seniors are receiving. Those figures are overwhelming.

Since the program began in July 2002, 18,500 seniors have received more than $45.7 million in prescriptions by submitting more than 146,000 applications to drug assistance programs. The program is funded through the end of the fiscal year, so those figures are only as of February.

The amazing thing is that the state has done this at a cost of about $3 million. Where else can the state, or any organization, claim such a large return on a relatively small investment?

Now it is up to our elected officials to ensure that this program is funded in 2005 at the $1.3 million budgeted by Gov. Riley. We ask the state’s voters to join AARP Alabama in encouraging our legislators to think not only of the welfare of older Alabamians, but of the kind of good fiscal management proven by a $45 million reward from a $3 million investment.

AARP Alabama State Director Joan Carter