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Drug Card Won't Cut Food Aid

June 12, 2004|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Food stamp recipients will see no reduction in their monthly allotments if they should get a Medicare drug discount card and $600 credit, the Agriculture Department said Friday.

The hasty announcement of a revised policy, issued despite the government's closure for former President Ronald Reagan's funeral, was to clarify a disagreement between Medicare and state food stamp officials about whether the drug card subsidy should be considered when calculating food stamps.

Citing USDA policy, some state officials said that if household drug expenses decreased, more money should be available for food and less money should come from the government to pay for food. A USDA memo issued in March reinforced this view, noting that food stamp recipients "may not claim a medical deduction for the cost of any prescriptions they receive free through use of the card."

However, Mark McClellan, who runs the Medicare program, insisted this week that the Medicare law clearly said otherwise. "New benefits

Daschle said the disagreement illustrated another sign of confusion in the drug card program, no matter who eventually was proved right.

In a statement late Friday, Daschle welcomed the development, saying many Medicare beneficiaries would "no longer have to worry about making a painful decision between their food stamp assistance and getting this help with their prescriptions."

On Friday, the USDA, which runs the food stamp program, said the Medicare position was correct. "We will immediately be clarifying policy guidance to ensure that food stamp applicants or recipients who use the new Medicare discount card will experience no impact on their eligibility or benefits," said Eric Bost, USDA undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services.

More than 3 million people have signed up for the discount cards, but most were enrolled automatically by their health maintenance organizations. Enrollment of people eligible for the subsidy has been lagging.

The cards are intended to be temporary, in effect only until prescription drug insurance under Medicare begins in 2006. They are designed to allow people without prescription drug insurance to benefit from lower prices available through group purchasing.

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