ST. PAUL -- A Senate committee took a small step on a big issue Wednesday, endorsing a bill that would allow more low-income seniors to qualify for state help paying their prescription drug bills.
Under the change, seniors would no longer be subject to an asset limit of $10,000 to qualify for the state's prescription drug program.
The measure, which passed the Senate Health and Family Security Committee, also increases the program's income limit to 150 percent of federal poverty guidelines from 120 percent. And it would create a sliding scale monthly deductible based on income levels instead of a fixed $35 monthly deductible.
Prescription drug coverage was one of the most consistent themes on the campaign trail in 2000, with Democrats and Republicans wielding anecdotes on the stump and promising seniors government help to pay high drug costs.
"This is a step forward," said Sen. Dallas Sams, DFL-Staples, the chairman of the committee and sponsor of the bill. "It's not the final step, but it's a step."
A similar bill recently passed a House committee. Both are now headed to their respective budget committees, where their costs are likely to face scrutiny.
Sams estimates the bill would cost $6 million in 2003, as the program doubles in size to about 12,000 seniors.
A host of prescription drug bills are still waiting for hearings. Among them is one that will allow senior citizens to purchase prescription drugs at the same bulk-rate discount price offered to large purchasers such as the government and HMOs.
The bill, which faces opposition from the prescription drug companies, is expected to get a hearing within the next few weeks.
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