More than 60,000 elderly Missourians got a letter from the state last month informing them they were about to be cut off from a program that had helped them pay for prescription drugs.
Marjorie Prunty, 74, of Platte County, remembers what she thought when her letter arrived.
“I’m going to die.”
In May, state lawmakers voted to save $15 million in the state’s $27 billion budget by cutting a state program called MORx.
Those earning between 85 percent and 185 percent of the federal poverty level, or up to about $22,000 a year for an individual, had previously qualified for MORx, which covered 50 percent of out-of-pocket prescription drug costs.
Now those 63,000 people – including more than 6,000 in Jackson County alone – are no longer eligible.
Prunty has had a lifetime of health issues, from kidney failure to two bouts of cancer to high blood pressure. She lives off about $1,200 a month from Social Security and $120 a month from a pension.
Without state assistance, she said her total costs for drugs her doctor has prescribed will be more than her income.
“People ask me, ‘what are you going to do?'” she said. “There is nothing I can do.”
James Stowe, director of Aging and Adult Services at the Mid America Regional Council, said Prunty’s story is not uncommon.
“Due to the income level of the individuals affected by the recent change to the MORx program,” he said, “they are not eligible for most benefits that would cover this prescription drug cost.”
Stowe’s organization, which serves five counties in the Kansas City area, has received numerous calls from people in Prunty’s situation since the state started sending out notification letters in mid-June. Many of the individuals impacted be the cut will simply stop taking medications that have become unaffordable. He said that could lead them to the emergency room, where medication is administered regardless of ability to pay, or to life in a nursing home.
“In all likelihood, these complications are why the MORx program was established in the first place,” he said, emphasizing that Prunty and others who have reached out to his organization are not exaggerating.
“Not taking prescribed medications is dangerous and expensive,” he said, “and could result in health complications, disability, or death.”
The MORx program began under Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican, back in 2006. It was renewed under Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, in 2011 and again in 2014.
Senior citizens earning less than 85 percent of the federal poverty level, or roughly $10,000 a year for an individual, will still qualify for MORx and are entitled to state aid for 100 percent of out-of-pocket costs on medications.
When lawmakers approved the cut this year, they expressed hope that it would not be permanent. If the state’s budget situation improves, the funding for the program could be reinstated.
“This is for one year,” Sen. David Sater, a Cassville Republican, said shortly before the legislation cutting the program was approved. “Hopefully, if we find the money, we can restore the funding.”
The cut was in part a response to a massive hole in the state budget. Despite cuts to numerous state programs, state revenue continued to lag. Late last month, Gov. Eric Greitens ended up cutting even further, withholding $250 million in spending. He also vetoed legislation that was meant to prevent cuts to in-home and nursing home care for 8,000 disabled or elderly Missourians.
Whether the funding for MORx can be reinstated when lawmakers return to Jefferson City in January will ultimately depend on how the state’s finances fare over the next year.
Prunty says she’s been reaching out to her representative and the governor’s office to share her story. She doesn’t believe she has much hope, but has no ill-will towards politicians in Jefferson City.
“I voted for these people. I’m not mad at them,” she said. “They just don’t understand. They don’t know what it’s like to be poor. They can’t identify with us.”