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State retirees, delegate frustrated with change to prescription drug coverage

Posted at 6:12 PM, Jul 12, 2018

What started as a press conference quickly turned into a Q and A between Washington County Delegate Neil Parrott and frustrated state retirees outside of Walgreens in Hagerstown. 

"There are a lot of people here who have a lot on their minds and they want some answers," retired correctional officer Mike Keifer said. 

They want to stop their prescription drug coverage from running out in January but there's not an easy solution in sight. Around 50 retirees and family members gathered to hear from Parrott about what can be done. 

"It was a broken promise to our state employees. They're the ones who helped the state of Maryland to function," Parrott said. 

He's one of the first state politicians speaking out since thousands of Medicare-eligible state retirees found out their prescription drug coverage is ending in January. 

"It was a slap in the face. During the time when we need the benefits the most, now they are telling us now you don’t have it anymore," Keifer said.

Retirees say they didn't even know this was an issue until they got letters in the mail from the Department of Budget and Management in May, saying their coverage was ending and they need to sign up for Medicare Part D.


While it's news to these retiree's, it's not new. This transition has been in the works since 2011, during Governor O’Malley’s administration and was planned to go into effect in July 2019. During the 2018 legislative session, the General Assembly voted to move the effective date for the legislation up to January 1, 2019. 


"I’m wise enough to know why they did it; it’s to save money. My concern is where they put that money when they take it out of my pocket," Keifer said. 


Parrott says the only way to fix it before January is to call a special session, so retirees should put pressure on their representatives. 


"We can get other delegates together on a bipartisan manor to say lets fix this problem," Parrott said. 


A problem that leaves many retired state employees with much higher healthcare costs on a limited budget. 


"Every person I talk to has a different story but the narrative is all the same: what are we gonna do? How can I afford this? What do I have to give up? Do I eat or do I take medication? That’s not a situation that we ever thought we would be in working for the state," Keifer said. "I take an injector pin for my Type 2 Diabetes. Under the state plan, I pay $50 for a 90 day supply, which is not bad. I don't complain about that at all. Come January first, under Medicare Part D, it's $500 a month. That’s one example for one medication for one individual."


The state says right now it affects about 38,000 people but that number will increase each year as more people become eligible for Medicare. 


The Hogan Administration has deferred our requests for a comment to the Department of Budget and Management who says both offices fought to keep the July date to give retirees more time to make the change. Now, they are trying to help ease the transition. 


Retirees and Parrott say the state needs to keep its promise. 


"We spent a lot of time behind the fences, doing a job we didn’t think we would ever do, but the reason we chose to do that was for the benefits that the state was offering. Not so much the money because you can make more money in the private sector but the security aspect that we were looking at and that's gone away," Keifer said. 


Parrott recommends all affected retirees prepare to sign up for Medicare Part D during open season to keep their prescription coverage.