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June 24, 2003

Blagojevich touts legislation to lower prescription drug costs in Oquawka visit
Program for 1.5 million seniors and disabled set to begin January 2004

OQUAWKA, ILL. – A new state initiative designed to reduce prescription drug costs for seniors and the disabled by up to 30 percent should be ready to be rolled out in January 2004, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich said today during a visit at the Oquawka Senior Center, 4th and Schyler.


“For far too long, we have lived in a state that has failed to act to lower the cost of prescription drugs,” said Gov. Blagojevich.  “This issue is more than a question of dollars and cents.  It’s a question of our values.  It’s a question that goes to the kind of society we are and the kind of priorities we make.


“Our seniors, who spent their lives workings hard, raising their families, paying their taxes and building a future for the next generation, should spend the autumn of their lives – retired and secure – and not being forced to choose between paying for their food and paying for their medicine.  And yet for years, they have been confronted with that choice.  Until now.”


Blagojevich said the innovative program will help senior citizens like Richard and Carol McNitt of Oquawka who are finding it difficult to pay for life-saving medications on a fixed income.  Richard McNitt was a diesel mechanic for years before several medical complications forced him into early retirement.  He suffers from emphysema and arthritis and the McNitts spend more than $200 per month on prescription drugs.


“I don’t know, I always tried to help people in the past,” Richard McNitt said.  “Now I need someone to help me.”


Statewide, seniors make up about 13 percent of the state’s population – nearly one in five residents of Oquawka -- but they account for 42 percent of all prescription drug benefits. 


“Providing a prescription drug benefit has and always should be the responsibility of the federal Medicare program,” the governor said.  “In the absence of federal help, however, we can no longer look the other way as our middle income seniors, such as the McNitts, spend their life savings simply to keep pace with unfair drug costs.”


As part of legislation signed by Blagojevich last week, Illinois residents 65 years of age or older or disabled can join a state-run club for $25 a year that will allow them to present a membership card at participating pharmacies to receive state-negotiated medicine discounts averaging 20 percent to 30 percent.


Savings are to be realized by the state leveraging the buying power of 1.5 million senior citizens eligible for the program and the $1.8 billion a year the state spends buying drugs for various programs to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for lower prices.


Under the plan, seniors who pay $130 for Prilosec – an acid reflux medicine – could save up to $40.  Seniors who pay $184 for Relafen – an anti-inflammatory drug – could save $60.


Negotiations on behalf of the state will be handled by two special advocates recently appointed by the governor – Scott McKibbin and Ram Kamath.  In addition to bargaining with drug companies, the two are to establish rules for the new program, develop the application process for the cards and coordinate the issuing of cards in January 2004.


While the exact discounts will not be determined until negotiations with the pharmaceutical manufacturers and pharmacists take place, Blagojevich commended pharmacists for coming to the table early during negotiations on the legislation and for working to ensure that all Illinois seniors will have access to this program.


Lawmakers in the House and Senate unanimously passed the prescription drug bills last month after Blagojevich called for its enactment in his March State of the State speech.  It was sponsored by state Sen. Debbie Halvorson, D-Crete, and state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock.


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