Rhode Island Set to Take a Different Tack to Senior Care

Article excerpt

While some New England states are trying to find a way their senior citizens can buy drugs from Canada to pay less, Rhode Island is considering legislation that would broaden an existing program that uses rebates and discounts to offer lower drug prices to seniors without Rx coverage. Pharmacy authorities in the Ocean State seem happy with the scope of the proposal, but questions linger over its economic feasibility.

The current plan, Rhode Island Pharmaceutical Assistance for the Elderly (RIPAE), provides a 60% state subsidy on certain drugs to residents over 65 who have incomes below $15,931 for a single person or $19,951 for a couple. With 97,000 enrollees, RIPAE costs the state $7.5 million a year; that figure is ultimately reduced to $5.5 million by manufacturer rebates.

The new plan, RIPAE Plus, would provide subsidies and discounts on many prescription drugs to all 154,000 elderly Rhode Islanders, purportedly without additional costs to the state. Proponents in the legislature insist, in fact, that it could actually pay for itself with increased rebates. Subsidies provided to patients would range from 5% of the cost of a drug to 30%, depending on income. In addition, participants would benefit from a 13% senior discount.

Don Fowler, executive director of the Rhode Island Pharmacists Association, said RIPAE is "a very ambitious program," and his group has been involved in developing it from the start. The program already has a history of expansion, having added antidepressants to its list of approved drugs last year. The new proposal "goes a heck of a lot further in that they plan to try to cover all seniors, regardless of income," he explained.

Fowler is an enthusiastic supporter of RIPAE and seems to agree with the basic premise of RIPAE Plus, although he acknowledged the legislature has yet to offer a full picture of how the program would be structured. "How can you be against the concept of faking sure that the elderly have a vehicle to get the medications they need? …


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