Budget shortfalls led to ending prescription drug benefits for many in Oregon
November 23, 2003
The Associated Press
When Douglas Schmidt suffered a massive seizure and fell into a coma in March, doctors provided what care they could for him.
Brain-damaged and hovering near death, Schmidt, 37, died this past Tuesday after doctors took him off life support at the request of relatives.
Two weeks before his seizure, Schmidt ran out of state-paid antiseizure medications that cost taxpayers about $490 a month. The state had ended the benefit because of budget cuts.
After Schmidt’s massive seizure, critics said it illustrated the dangers of the rollback in the Oregon Health Plan and a related benefit, the Medically Needy Program.
Schmidt’s partner, Werth Sargent, said he did not fault the state for funding cuts that resulted in the elimination of the $13 per day the state paid for Schmidt’s antiseizure medication. Sargent also lost coverage under the program.
“They had to make some cutbacks. It just happens that Doug and I were part of the group that was cut,” Sargent said.
However, Sargent also said funding of the medication should have been continued for people whose lives might be threatened without it.
On March 2, Sargent said he returned from a run to Starbucks for coffee to find Schmidt, who was epileptic, convulsing near the couch.
A month earlier, the state had canceled coverage for Schmidt’s antiseizure medication, Lamictal, amid $110 million in cuts to the Department of Human Services budget for the final five months of the 2001-03 budget.
Creating a separate system for cuts to patients losing potentially lifesaving medications would not have been practical, said Jim Kronenberg, chief operating officer for the Oregon Medical Association.
State Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem, co-chaired the legislative committee that voted to cut about 8,000 or so patients from the Medically Needy Program, which supplied Schmidt’s drugs, if voters rejected an income tax in a special election in January, which they did.
Alternatives were available for Schmidt, she said, if he had understood the urgency of continuing his medications. After the cuts, the state made health officials available to tell patients where they could get discount or free medications, Winters said.
Sargent said Schmidt did understand the need to continue his medications and pursued those options, but the drugs did not arrive in time.
There are other Oregonians who lost state subsidies for medications and have been able to find other ways to get them.
Channah Pastorius, 48, of Beaverton, searched for an alternative source
of the multiple sclerosis medicine Copaxone after losing state benefits.
She applied to free drug programs run by pharmaceutical companies, consulted
with social workers and searched the Internet to cobble together $2,100
a month in handout medications.
Copyright © 2003, The Associated Press