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HIV Medicaid Drug co-payments in Corzine budget draw fire
  Legislature is likely to remove proposed fees for Medicaid recipients, governor admits
Newark Star Ledger__Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Advocates for New Jersey's Medicaid recipients and AIDS/HIV patients told lawmakers yesterday the prescription drug co-payments included in Gov. Jon Corzine's proposed budget will hurt clients already struggling with a bad economy.
Corzine later indicated he is willing to back off on the proposed co-payments, at least those aimed at the Medicaid program.
The $29.8 billion budget was on display yesterday in Trenton, where the Assembly budget committee heard from advocates for health programs, and in Montclair, where the Senate budget panel listened to residents eager to hold onto their piece of the state spending pie. Corzine also talked up the budget at a home in Bloomfield.
Asking for Medicaid co-payments has become an annual rite of the state's budget season, but seeking them from AIDS/HIV patients is new this year.
Corzine's bad economy spending plan would collect $1.4 million from 9,000 AIDS/HIV patients who have obtained free medicine from the state because they do not qualify for other assistance programs.
"From talking to stores, they know their patients will not have the ability to pay this and the consequences will be dire," said John Covello, director of government and public affairs for the Independent Pharmacy Association of New Jersey. "These are very, very expensive drugs."
Another $4.6 million would be raised through proposed $2 Medicaid prescription drug co-payments, capped at $10 monthly. A similar co-payment schedule was proposed in Corzine's budget last year, but it was removed by lawmakers before the final budget was passed in June.
"This really acts as a disincentive for people to go and fill their prescriptions," said Phil Lubitz, director of advocacy for the National Association on Mental Illness of New Jersey.
Corzine, discussing the Medicaid co-payment later in Bloomfield, said there is a "very low probability" that the co-payments would survive the budget process.
"It almost always gets adjusted by the Legislature," Corzine told about 20 Bloomfield residents. The hour-long session at the Essex County home of Barry Weiner and Peggy Rohe was Corzine's second living-room sit down on the budget in the past week.
Asked after the meeting whether the co-payments by HIV/AIDS patients were also likely to be removed from the final budget, Corzine did not give a direct response.
"There are a lot of concerns. I have concerns myself," he said. "But what we take out, we have to put something else back in."
Earlier, he told the residents: "It's really a zero-sum game."
The idea of co-pays has "pluses and minuses," but Corzine said he believes it could ensure that people are "disciplined" about using Medicaid.
The Democratic governor, who is seeking re-election this fall, said he plans a "consistent dialogue with the public" about the budget over the next few months.
"As we go through a tough budget season, if the Legislature's listening, I think maybe the governor ought to listen, too," Corzine told reporters afterward.
During the Senate hearing, held at Montclair State University, 88 people -- nearly every one a registered lobbyist, employee of a state-funded organization or a local elected official -- signed up to plead for more money.
Ralph Mastrangelo Jr. of Oradell said he was appearing both as a parent of 21-year-old woman with mental disabilities and as chairman of the board of trustees for the Arc of Bergen and Passaic Counties.
The Corzine budget would eliminate $3.8 million for job services for people with disabilities. It also would strike funding for job and activities programs for about 200 young adults such as Mastrangelo's daughter, Maureen, who will graduate from the Norman A. Bleshman Regional Day School in Paramus in June.
"Without this funding, Mo and all of her classmates will be sitting home come July," Mastrangelo said. "Twenty-one years of special education, for what? To sit around all day watching TV?"
Patricia A. Tumulty, executive director of the New Jersey Library Association, said a proposed reduction of $2.3 million comes when public libraries are needed more than ever. Statewide, she said, usage is 8 percent to 25 percent over last year. She attributed the trend to newly jobless patrons using computers and other resources to find work, and parents and others looking for inexpensive entertainment.
"This budget does not view libraries as a critical service," Tumulty said.
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