Illinois seniors rally for prescription drug relief

SPRINGFIELD – Hundreds of senior citizens from every corner of Illinois converged on the State Capitol in Springfield on April 30 to demand passage of the Senior Citizens Drug Discount Plan. Wearing their Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans (Illinois Alliance) buttons, the retirees chanted, “All Seniors! All Drugs! Best Price! This Year!”

The plan would use the buying power of the State of Illinois to provide medicines for seniors and the disabled at deep discounts. This plan would not cost the State anything because the cost of administration would be covered by the $25 annual membership fee. The pharmaceutical companies, however, are vigorously fighting the discounts.

Hal Gullett, president of the Illinois Alliance, said that this is the year to finally give seniors some relief from the high cost of prescription drugs. He said that the Senior Drug Discount Program had previously been passed in the Illinois House only to be held hostage in the Senate for three years. This year is a whole new ball game, he said, referring to the end of Republican rule in Illinois.

While the retirees were at the Capitol, a great victory was announced.

The Illinois House passed its version of the bill, HB-209, by voting 118 to 0. Since the Senate also passed the bill with a vote of 56 to 0, victory is in sight. The new Democratic Governor, Rod Blagoyjevich, has spoken out in favor of the plan.

Steve Pittman, executive director of the Illinois Alliance, said that one out of every three seniors in Illinois is without any prescription drug coverage. Thousands of others have inadequate coverage. But drug companies are averaging 18 percent profit compared to the 5 percent average of other Fortune 500 companies. It is unacceptable that seniors still have to choose between food and their life sustaining medicine, he said, noting that this program will go a long way in easing that burden.

The fighting retirees also lobbied for the Health Care Justice Act, which would put the State of Illinois on record for universal health care in the state by January 2007. The bill sets up a bipartisan commission to hold hearing around the state and bring in a plan to provide all Illinoisans with health care by 2007.

Jesse Kelley, a member of Seniors Organized for Justice in South Chicago, said, “Healthcare is a right. We should not have to beg for it. We must get bigger and stronger and next time we will demand, not beg.”

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org