LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – California, Arkansas and Illinois have joined about half a dozen other states taking emergency measures to help residents struggling to get prescriptions filled under the new Medicare drug program.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered an emergency plan Thursday allowing the state to pay for the drugs for the next two weeks.
The state will temporarily supply seniors and the disabled with "lifesaving medications they are in danger of losing because of significant problems with the new federal Medicare prescription drug program," Schwarzenegger said in a statement.
Gov. Mike Huckabee declared a public health emergency in Arkansas on Wednesday and announced the state would provide short-term aid to pharmacies to help get medicines filled.
"It's become apparent that there are a number of people in our state, particularly the elderly and the most frail, who are in a life-or-death risk over getting medication," Huckabee said.
Illinois officials sent notices to pharmacies Wednesday detailing where to call if Medicare patients can't get medicine. If the problem can't be resolved by phone, pharmacists will be allowed to bill the state for the cost of the drugs, officials said.
Rhode Island officials have said they plan to launch an emergency program.
Huckabee, chairman of the National Governors Association, said he spoke with Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt earlier this week, and that Leavitt assured him a solution was in the works for Medicare program that started Jan. 1.
"When he didn't have it all fixed, we started realizing that we had to keep scrambling," Huckabee said.
The governor estimated Arkansas would spend between $2 million and $6 million to help pharmacies fill prescriptions that the new federal program is rejecting. He said he hoped the federal government would reimburse the state's expenses.
In some case, people who enrolled in plans have discovered they aren't listed as participating when pharmacies check their computers. Other beneficiaries found they were listed as owing a $250 deductible when they should have been paying only a few dollars per prescription.
Earlier this week, New Hampshire authorized up to $500,000 for payments to pharmacists who give a 10-day supply of drugs to people having trouble getting their medicines. South Dakota started allowing people who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid to get a 30-day supply of medicine.
Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts and North Dakota had already announced plans to help low-income residents get their medicine if pharmacists were having trouble confirming coverage through the new Medicare benefit.