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The Valley Reporter
P.O. Box 119
Waitsfield, VT 05673

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The power to do the right thing

(This letter was sent to the Vermont legislative health care committee and Governor Douglas regarding budget cuts and the elimination of VHPARM Program.)

I'm extremely concerned that Governor Douglas has proposed the elimination of the VPHARM program in his budget cuts. I'm not affiliated with any organization, just a plain old Vermont citizen that is in need of assistance through the VPHARM program. What I say is by no means to be taken personally or meant to be vindictive. My husband and I are just ordinary citizens who have worked hard all our lives making a modest income, maintaining a home and raising our three sons.

Not unlike a lot of other Vermonter's, ready to retire from all our hard work. Unfortunately, in this economy, we could no longer afford to purchase the medications we need to maintain our health. My husband takes 11 prescription medications a day and I take four. We both have diabetes, and he has heart problems among other medical issues. The retail cost of our medications alone, are over $1,300 a month.

Our combined social security is a little over $2,000 a month. One medication for a 30-day supply costs $296 with three others ranging from $237, $176, and $200. The other seven generics range in prices from $56 to $148. Two of my medications cost $237 and $252 for a 30-day supply. My other two are $130 and $50 for the same time period. On a Medicare D Plan it cost us over $230 a month in co-pays and anywhere from $85 to $160 for the Medicare D premiums, depending on which plan I choose.

My "out-of-pocket total" for a year for both of us totals over $8,000. It was because of these costs that I had to turn to the VPHARM program for assistance. On a Medicare D plan, when your medications' total cost reaches $2,700 each, you are placed in the wonderful "donut hole" and required to pay 100 percent of your medications until your total costs reach the limit of $4,350. It took approximately five to six months for both of us to reach the $2,700 mark, each. That leaves us paying 100 percent of the medication costs up to the maximum of $4,350 per person, which is approximately $1,650 each for a total of $3,300. 

Where do you find that kind of money on income of only $2,000 a month with a mortgage payment and other monthly expenses? There was no way I could ever pay out that kind of money and still be able to live in my home, pay health insurance, pay utilities and still buy food and survive. With the VPHARM program, I pay a monthly premium of $100 for both my husband and I. With that I am able to get my medications and still meet my monthly expenses such as my mortgage, fuel, electric, telephone, health insurance, etc., without any other assistance. It still leaves me struggling to find the funds to pay my property taxes and vehicle/homeowner insurances.

I consider myself luckier than some people I've seen testify at these hearings. At this time I don't have to rely on other programs such as food stamps, fuel assistance, and Medicaid to survive. Some people are not as lucky and struggle worse than me. My mother always said, "Look around the corner and you can always find someone worse off then you are." 

The Medicare D program is broken, mostly because of the donut hole and hefty co-pays. The plans just don't work and are not structured for the poor, disabled and elderly. If a person can't afford to purchase their medications through the donut hole, what makes the lawmakers think they can afford any kind of Medicare D premium, deductible, or high co-pay? This is why they turn to the VPHARM program. It's because this program "does work" and myself and others can get the medications we need to survive and maintain our health. It's bad enough that we have to deal with our chronic ailments on a daily basis without wondering if we will have the medications to carry on day to day.

I and many others are the victims here of these proposed budget cuts; surely as if we have been beaten, abused and cast aside. We are victims in two ways, one by living day to day with chronic diseases not of our choosing, and two, the victims of the greedy CEOs, investment bankers, financial advisors and corrupted federal officials that are supposed to be honest, trustworthy and worthwhile individuals entrusted by us for our future and this economy. 

We, the most vulnerable individuals, and Vermont's most valued assets, shouldn't have to pay the price for this greed and corruption that has caused this economy to crumble. We are already paying the price with all the bailout packages of our hard-earned tax dollars, doled out to large banks and the auto industry. Every day it gets worse and is deepening into a depression. There's an old saying that goes something like this: "Do not judge me unless you walk a mile in my shoes."

I ask you, any one of you or Governor Douglas himself, if you would like to walk in my husband's shoes for one day in chronic pain, or with the single mother with a disabled child who relies on assistance so she can work to pay the rent and buy food, or with the mentally challenged person that must take medications just to function on a daily basis, or the brain cancer patient that has to take the medications just to survive chemo or radiation treatments and my best friend Linda with advanced lung disease on 24-hour oxygen and several medications just to breathe each day. 

These are the kinds of people that these budget cuts will affect.  Can any one of you go to bed at night with a clear conscience and clearly say it is a "job well done" if you allow these budget cuts to go through? Walk in our shoes for just one day and see why we are fighting so hard to keep this program. These are people that you will be discarding and throwing away, as if their life has no value, and then cut off their only lifeline they have, the VPHARM program. Surely that is not why you sit in front of me today. The measures you decide on this budget cut will determine whether myself and others have to choose between buying food, paying our mortgage, or buying the medicine we need so badly. 

I realize that these proposed cuts and the economy are not your fault personally; however, you have the power to do the right thing. You are just trying to do your job, but when you do that job, listen to what the people are saying, really listen to their stories. These are the people that trusted you and had faith in you to make the right decision. As I see it you have two choices, either go along with the proposed cuts or stand up and do the will of these people here today and just say, "No."

Thank you again for allowing me to speak on behalf of the VPHARM program. If anyone has any questions, I would be happy to respond to the best of my ability.

Brenda J. Viens lives in N. Fayston.


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