Topeka Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on Friday said the state would cover drug costs for Kansans having problems getting their medicines because of glitches in the new federal prescription drug program.
"It's appalling to hear that any Kansas senior or disabled person is being forced to go without the prescription drugs they depend on," Sebelius said.
After more than two weeks in operation, the new Medicare program still has thousands of Kansans unsure how to choose among 41 plans, which vary according to the drugs covered, premiums paid and deductibles required.
"It's been a pretty threatening process to sign up," Sandra Zender, of Lawrence, said earlier this week at a forum at the Lawrence Senior Center meant to help people cope with the new regulations.
The complexity has created unexpected financial troubles for some already enrolled.
"There are just so many choices to make," Mary Rau, a rural Lawrence resident, said at the forum. "They could have made it much simpler."
Federal officials have acknowledged a variety of problems associated with the program's rollout.
Meanwhile, Sebelius pledged the state will step in to provide temporary relief while the federal government fixes discrepancies with enrollees' records.
"Hopefully, the problems within Medicare will be worked out soon, but until then we will ensure Kansans receive their medicines," Sebelius said.
That pledge came as criticism of the new Medicare prescription drug program swept the nation. The program has been touted by President Bush as the most significant advance in Medicare in decades. But implementation has been mired in confusion.
Sebelius said if a pharmacist was having trouble enrolling someone who was considered "dual-eligible" for Medicare and Medicaid or if there were problems with their claims, the state would cover the cost of the prescription drugs directly.
Kansas will then seek appropriate compensation from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services or the health plans that failed to properly enroll the individual.
"We're stepping up to make sure Kansans aren't left behind because of problems at the federal level," Sebelius said.
By Friday, more than a dozen other states had done the same.
Some patients have encountered long hold times when calling the Medicare hot line, while others have been charged prices they couldn't afford because pharmacists couldn't access information on their eligibility for low-income subsidies.
Sebelius commended pharmacists for going out of their way to serve their customers.
Earlier this month, she committed $500,000 to provide more counselors and phone lines for Kansans needing help enrolling in a plan.