Seth Grove
Seth Grove

About 715 York County seniors could soon be thanking the state's lottery and tobacco companies for an extension that would allow them to continue getting their prescriptions free or at a reduced cost.

The state House on Monday unanimously passed a measure to keep nearly 30,000 seniors statewide from losing prescription drug assistance because of a Social Security cost-of-living adjustment.

Under the bill, written by Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, the state will permit seniors to keep the PACE and PACENET programs until Dec. 31, 2015, though the cost-of-living increase could otherwise have made them ineligible because of the increase in income.

To participate in the program, a single person's income must be $14,500 or less. Married couples can't make more than $17,700 combined.

The 3.6 percent 2012 Social Security COLA combined with the recent 2013 COLA of 1.7 percent is expected to push some program participants over the income threshold, causing them to lose benefits.

The Legislature passed a similar bill last session, but it expired Dec. 31, 2013.

Unanimous: Grove's bill, which passed 198-0 and is awaiting approval in the Senate, would extend the COLA moratorium until the last day of 2015.

Though the earlier bill already expired, Gov. Tom Corbett's administration has kept the program open to those who would otherwise be ineligible, Grove said. The bill is moving "post haste" through the Legislature and is expected to be signed by Corbett as soon as possible, he said.

In addition to the extension, the bill will deduct Medicare Part B payments from income for people who apply for the prescription programs. The average yearly premium is $1,258, Grove said, so the applicant's income would be reduced by that amount. The income reduction should make more than 20,000 people statewide eligible for the programs, Grove said.

Supporters: The bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Ron Miller, R-Jacobus, and Majority Whip Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township.

Miller said it's "harsh" to make seniors ineligible for programs they need because of a modest cost-of-living increase.

"Some people say they don't even benefit from the COLA because it pushes their income up and they lose their benefits," he said.

Miller said the extension will be paid for with state lottery funds, a tobacco settlement, and pharmaceutical manufacturer rebates.

Savings are built into the system so the COLA should be extended again in 2015, Grove said. The Part B premium provision does not expire, he said.

The bill had broad bipartisan support and is expected to move out of the Senate by Monday, Grove said.

Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, was among the Democratic supporters.

"It ensures older Pennsylvanians can continue to get the medications they need at an affordable rate, or as affordable as possible," Schreiber said. "We have an aging society and we're using more prescription medications, and costs continue to increase."

Grove will be hosting a series of assistance programs to help people understand the assistance available with PACE and PACENET. The first will be held 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Thursday, April 3 at Windy Hill Senior Center, 1472 Roths Church Road, Suite 103 in Paradise Township.

— Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.