Legislators, AARP
object to Lingle
free-drug plan

By Lyn Danninger

Two state legislators and the Hawaii executive director of the AARP, the national organization representing retirees, said yesterday that Gov. Linda Lingle's plan to provide drugs for the needy falls far short of meeting the needs of those who cannot afford prescription drugs.

Sen. Ron Menor, Rep. Roy Takumi and the AARP's Greg Marchildon said that the governor's plan is well-intentioned, but she should instead reverse her decision to restrict access to $1.4 million the Legislature appropriated last year to fund the Health Hawaii Act, a Medicaid waiver and discounted prescription drug program.

Lingle should also encourage the federal Department of Health and Human Services to grant Medicaid waivers to the state which would allow more people to qualify for drug coverage. The program has the potential to reach up to 170,000 Hawaii residents ranging from those in poverty to the working poor, the three said.

The state applied last month to DHHS to grant the waivers. The department has 90 days to respond to the request, said Menor (D, Mililani).

Lingle announced Monday that the Weinberg Foundation had donated $3 million to cover the administration of a temporary two-year plan which would allow the most needy to gain access to free medicine provided by pharmaceutical companies. No money to fund the program would come from the state and the program could be up and running in about six months, she said.

Lingle said the program should reach 20,000 needy individuals in the first year. Lingle's program is modeled on one already in existence at Maui Memorial Hospital that serves around 600 patients. Under the program needy patients could get help applying for the program through the Hawaii Health Systems Corp 12 state hospitals and the five clinics run by the Hawaii Primary Care Association. In addition, doctors and patients would have access to a call center to be set up at the Hawaii Medical Association.

Menor, Takumi and Marchildon say there is room for both programs.

"We're baffled why this has to be an either/or program," said Takumi (D, Pearl City-Pacific Palisades).

They also say their program would be self sustaining within three years.

Menor, Takumi and Marchildon characterized the governor's program as bureaucratic and to complicated. Marchildon said that program could begin in a matter of months if the governor would release the $1.4 million already set aside.

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