Lawmakers Seek Extension for Wisconsin Drug Benefit
Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle (D) and Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) on Wednesday after a meeting with HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said that they hope Leavitt will issue an extension to allow the state to continue to operate SeniorCare, a prescription drug program for low-income seniors, until Dec. 31, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports (Forster, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 4/18).
CMS earlier this month rejected a request from Doyle for a new Medicaid waiver to allow the state to continue to operate SeniorCare, which began in 2002, for three additional years. According to CMS, the state has not provided evidence that SeniorCare reduces costs for the federal government as required.
The rejection of the request will require the state to shift SeniorCare beneficiaries to the Medicare prescription drug benefit. In 2005, before the implementation of the Medicare prescription drug benefit, HHS issued a waiver to allow Wisconsin to continue to operate SeniorCare until at least June 30.
SeniorCare has no monthly premiums, lower copayments than the Medicare prescription drug benefit and no gaps in coverage. In addition, SeniorCare, unlike the Medicare prescription drug benefit, does not measure the assets of beneficiaries. SeniorCare has enrolled more than 100,000 Wisconsin residents ages 65 and older with annual incomes less than 240% of the federal poverty level (California Healthline, 4/10).
Doyle said, "The secretary expressed he understood what a difficult logistical problem that the ending of SeniorCare has created and that we need time to be sure people get the help that they need."
According to Doyle, officials in the state Department of Health and Family Services have begun to develop a proposal for supplemental coverage for the Medicare prescription drug benefit in place of SeniorCare that would require approval by the state Legislature. State health department officials could complete the proposal as early as mid-May, and Doyle said that he hopes the plan becomes part of the next two-year state budget adopted this summer.
Doyle said, "I am confident that the plan we come up with will be one that matches or exceeds any wraparound program" in the U.S. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 4/18).