SPRINGFIELD -- Opposition is building to Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed elimination of a $107 million-a-year program that helps low-income senior citizens and disabled people afford prescription drugs.

SPRINGFIELD -- Opposition is building to Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed elimination of a $107 million-a-year program that helps low-income senior citizens and disabled people afford prescription drugs.

“We’re having people call us frantically now,” said Beth Monnat, a pharmaceutical assistance specialist at Senior Services of Central Illinois in Springfield. “They don’t know what they’re going to do. We don’t know what to do.”

The panic began in mid-February, when the governor unveiled a state budget for fiscal 2012 that included no money to operate the Illinois Cares Rx program.

Quinn had unsuccessfully pushed for cuts in the program before, beginning in 2009, to help the state deal with a multibillion-dollar budget shortfall. But the Chicago Democrat never before suggested that the program, which serves more than 200,000 people statewide, be eliminated.

Among those angered by the proposal is Mildred Robb, 72, a retired kitchen worker from Springfield.

 “I think what they want to do to the seniors is kill us all,” said Robb, who has received help from the program for several years.


Senior health risk

In response to the outcry, Julie Hamos, director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, told lawmakers last week that the Quinn administration is looking at options for tweaking Illinois Cares Rx, but the program’s future remains uncertain.

“The state is re-examining whether we can achieve savings without fully eliminating the program,” Hamos said in a statement Wednesday.

Illinois residents 65 and older, as well as younger people with disabilities, must re-enroll annually in the program, which pays for Medicaid Part D premiums and reduces co-pays, deductibles and other out-of-pocket pharmaceutical costs.

A single person must have an annual household income of less than $27,610 to qualify for the program. A married couple’s income must be less than $36,635.

Illinois Cares Rx saves participants hundreds of dollars each year. Dave Vinkler, associate state director of AARP Illinois added that, and despite its cost, saves the public money by reducing expenses in the Medicaid and Medicare programs.

Thousands of Illinoisans will go without their medicine if the program is eliminated, he said. If that happens, he said seniors’ health would deteriorate, leading to more hospitalizations and admissions to nursing homes.


Susceptible to cuts

Illinois Cares Rx has been offered in one form or another since 1985. About half of all states offer some form of state-based pharmaceutical assistance, and Illinois’ program is one of the more generous, according to John Coburn, senior attorney at Chicago-based Health & Disability Advocates.

Because Illinois Cares Rx doesn’t receive any federal funding, the program is especially susceptible to cuts, Coburn said. The state’s finances remain precarious despite the recent increase in state income taxes, he said.

State Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, who opposes the program’s elimination, said he doesn’t believe it will be axed.

Quinn recently reversed course on several other drastic cuts that had been proposed for social-service programs during the current fiscal year, Bomke said.

“There are other areas we can cut without affecting the most vulnerable,” he said.

Coburn, however, isn’t taking continued state funding of Illinois Cares Rx for granted.

“In this fiscal environment, it feels like anything the state is not required to continue … gets threatened with elimination,” he said.

Quinn also is proposing to get rid of the $24 million-a-year “Circuit Breaker” program, which helps seniors afford housing and license-plate fees.

Needy seniors who depend on Illinois Cares Rx and the Circuit Breaker don’t have a lot of political clout, Vinkler said.

“These types of cuts are tricky to fight,” he said.


No food, medicine

Rather than eliminating Illinois Cares Rx, the state should consider reducing the benefits participants receive, said Nancy Nichols, a Senior Services information and assistance specialist.

Robb, who is divorced and has four children and seven grandchildren, said she hopes Quinn and state lawmakers “come to their senses, because we’re the ones who vote them in.”

She said she lives in a subsidized apartment, surviving on about $500 from Social Security and $35 in food stamps each month. She uses Illinois Cares Rx to pay for medicine she takes to control diabetes and high blood pressure and to prevent recurrence of breast cancer.

“I wouldn’t be able to buy food or medicine without this program,” she said.

Dean Olsen can be reached at (217) 788-1543.


Illinois Cares Rx

*Pays Medicare Part D premiums for certain prescription-drug plans, saving participants about $30 a month.

*Covers hundreds of dollars in individual annual deductibles and reduces monthly co-payments so that participants pay $2.50 a month per prescription for generic drugs and $6.30 a month for name-brand drugs.

*Covers between 30 percent and 73 percent of prescription-drug costs in Medicare Part D’s “doughnut hole.”

For more information: www.illinoiscaresrx.com


County participation in Illinois Cares Rx

(as of December 2010)


County Number of enrollees

Adams 2,712

Alexander 369

Bond 609

Boone 1,256

Brown 199

Bureau 1,436

Calhoun 199

Carroll 841

Cass 588

Champaign 2,153

Christian 1,209

Clark 705

Clay 856

Clinton 927

Coles 1,376

Cook 84,574

Crawford 605

Cumberland 340

DeKalb 1,213

DeWitt 594

Douglas 539

DuPage 8,004

Edgar 905

Edwards 296

Effingham 1,140

Fayette 768

Ford 451

Franklin 1,841

Fulton 1,272

Gallatin 286

Greene 706

Grundy 600

Hamilton 491

Hancock 844

Hardin 264

Henderson 304

Henry 1,589

Iroquois 1,269

Jackson 1,090

Jasper 445

Jefferson 2,396

Jersey 730

Jo Daviess 630

Johnson 385

Kane 4,892

Kankakee 2,916

Kendall 429

Knox 1,916

LaSalle 2,392

Lake 5,270

Lawrence 657

Lee 1,753

Livingston 2,050

Logan 732

Macon 3,784

Macoupin 1,499

Madison 6,895

Marion 1,024

Marshall 307

Mason 177

Massac 665

McDonough 946

McHenry 3,526

McLean 1,921

Menard 279

Mercer 480

Monroe 485

Montgomery 1,213

Morgan 1,205

Moultrie 493

Ogle 1,486

Peoria 3,732

Perry 592

Piatt 371

Pike 745

Pope 163

Pulaski 426

Putnam 179

Randolph 994

Richland 790

Rock Island 2,986

Saline 1,163

Sangamon 3,679

Schuyler 266

Scott 155

Shelby 1,202

St. Clair 5,973

Stark 189

Stephenson 2,001

Tazewell 2,615

Union 605

Vermillion 3,019

Wabash 514

Warren 699

Washington 650

Wayne 1,080

White 902

Whiteside 1,375

Will 5,870

Williamson 2,402

Winnebago 8,038

Woodford 417

Source: Illinois Department on Aging