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July 23, 2003

Blagojevich touts benefits of new prescription drug club for seniors and disabled
Program for 1.5 million set to begin January 2004; savings of up to 30 percent expected

CASEY, ILL. – Within the next six months, the nation’s first prescription drug club for seniors and disabled will be in place in Illinois, offering savings of 20 percent to 30 percent, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today told a group of senior citizens during a visit to the Casey Seniors Center.


“For far too long, we hade lived in a state that has failed to act to lower the cost of prescription drugs,” Blagojevich said.  “This issue is more than a question of dollars and cents.  It’s a question of our values.  It’s a question that goes to the kind of society we are and the kind of priorities we make.


“Our seniors, who spent their lives workings hard, raising their families, paying their taxes and building a future for the next generation, should spend the autumn of their lives – retired and secure – and not being forced to choose between paying for their food and paying for their medicine.  And yet for years, they have been confronted with that choice.  Until now.”


Under terms of the innovative program, Blagojevich said senior citizens 65 years of age and older and the disabled not covered by Medicare will be able to enroll in the club for $25 a year and become eligible to receive state-negotiated discounts beginning in January 2004.


The governor had made the idea a campaign promise and pushed for the legislation during the spring legislative session to help senior citizens who are finding it increasingly difficult to pay for life-saving medications while on a fixed income.  Statewide, seniors make up about 13 percent of the state’s population, but they account for 42 percent of all prescription drug purchases. 


“Providing a prescription drug benefit has and always should be the responsibility of the federal Medicare program,” the governor said.  “In the absence of federal help, however, we can no longer look the other way as our middle income seniors spend their life savings simply to keep pace with unfair drug costs.”


Despite indications in Washington that approval may be near to expand Medicare to help seniors with high drug costs, Blagojevich said he wasn’t about to wait for a plan that the federal government has considered for years and that isn’t slated to begin until 2006.


Under terms of the Illinois plan, savings will be realized by the state leveraging the buying power of the estimated 1.5 million senior citizens eligible for the program and the $1.8 billion a year the state spends buying drugs for various programs to negotiate lower prices from pharmaceutical companies.


For example, through the state club, seniors who pay $130 for Prilosec – an acid reflux medicine – could save up to $40 or those who pay $184 for Relafen – an anti-inflammatory drug – could save $60.


While the exact discounts will not be determined until negotiations with the pharmaceutical manufacturers and pharmacists take place, Blagojevich commended pharmacists for coming to the table early during negotiations on the legislation and for working to ensure that all Illinois seniors will have access to this program.


Blagojevich set the buyers’ club plan in motion by issuing an Executive Order to create a Special Advocate’s Office in the Illinois Department of Central Management Services that will bargain with drug companies, establish rules for the new program, develop an application process for the club discount cards and coordinate the issuance of cards.


In addition, the Special Advocate’s Office will oversee the prescription drug purchases for the nine state agencies that currently total $1.8 billion and, by combining the purchasing power, be able to save an estimated $120 million a year.  A federal study found that Illinois received only a 1.74 percent savings last year on drug purchases for the 50,000 people enrolled in the state’s Circuit Breaker program, the lowest discount of any state in the nation.


Lawmakers in the House and Senate unanimously passed the prescription drug bills in May after Blagojevich called for its enactment in his March State of the State speech.  The legislation was sponsored by state Sen. Debbie Halvorson, D-Crete, and state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock.


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