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Local seniors, disabled don't know how they will pay for medicine after budget cuts began Saturday

For Dorothy Armstrong, the impact of the cutbacks in senior medical help is simple.

Without my meds, I'll die, she says.

For her diabetes and heart disease, the 69-year-old Phoenix woman takes 14 drugs costing &

36;713 a month. With the failure of Measure 28, the money to pay for them disappeared Saturday. So did Juanita, her caretaker who bathes her and cleans house.

We cried together on her final visit Friday, said Armstrong, a widow. I don't know what I'm going to do. I turned off my baseboard heat. That was costing &

36;130 a month. I'm thinking about getting an old car to live in with my dog Pokita.

Gail Reynolds, 66, of Central Point, is in a similar situation. She and her husband, Paul, live on &

36;1,300 a month in Social Security and get by mainly because they receive shelter in exchange for taking care of an elderly woman who has Alzheimer's. Gail's monthly medications for diabetes and congestive heart failure run more than &

36;1,000. Cut off Saturday from financial help for her prescriptions, she said, Without my meds, I can't live.

The failure Tuesday of the tax-raising Measure 28 set in motion cutbacks of &

36;4.9 million in services to local seniors and the disabled over the next five months. Some 900 residents in Jackson and Josephine counties were dropped Saturday from the Medically Needy Program. Another 700 clients of Senior and Disability Services will be cut in three phases, and 300 clients have been dropped from the state's General Assistance Program.

Cutbacks of another &

36;28.5 million starting July — will remove many more, said Berta Varble of Rogue Valley Council of Governments, which administers the funds for the region.

Armstrong said she does not know how she will survive.

My head is swimming, she said. They said I qualify for food stamps now, but first I have to wait a month and show them (proof of income and expenses) for February, and meanwhile, I don't know where I'm going to get food.

Despite the fact that Measure 28's passage would have kept up money for her medications, Armstrong voted against it. The state was just trying to blackmail voters with stories of people losing jobs and being cut off from social programs. Any damn fool could see this coming years ago and would know they have to correct it, but they didn't.

Armstrong lives on Social Security of &

36;980 a month. She lost her home five years ago when her husband, Felix, died suddenly of an aneurysm. Two of her five children have died and the rest have lost touch or are in financial straits themselves, she said.

Armstrong's doctor, Wendy Schilling of Ashland, said she's shifting Armstrong and many other similarly affected seniors to generic medications, reducing dosages if possible and handing out all the free samples she can get.

Some of them say they're quitting the more expensive drugs, and I try to explain the consequences, said Schilling. Dorothy is in poor health and needs all her drugs. If she stops, she'll have a miserable quality of life and her chances of dying earlier are much higher.

The state Senior and Disability Services here is mailing applications to cut-off seniors that would allow them, if they're on Medicare and their incomes are low enough (but not so high they qualify for Medicaid), to get specified drugs from manufacturers at 20 to 70 percent discount. Reynolds was filling hers out Saturday.

Social agency representatives are holding an emergency brainstorming meeting at 4 p.m. Monday, Varble said, to plan strategies to cope with the crisis, including how to draw in volunteers needed to fill gaps in the caretaker process.

Paperwork for the discount drug program will require many volunteers, she said. Volunteers also will be needed through the Retired Senior Volunteers Program, Food and Friends, Lifespan Respite and other groups, she added.

Given the seemingly intractable state financial crisis, it's time now for the people to step up and help each other, said Varble.

We have no alternative now. The safety net is gone, and we need personal heroes to knock on their neighbors' doors, pay for their meals from Food and Friends, offer to pay their insurance co-pay, bring them food or just be a friendly visitor and say hello.

Discount medications

The following are Web sites and phone numbers for companies providing discount medications. Applications are available at:

Toll-free: Together Rx, 1-800-865-7211; Pfizer, 1-800-717-6005; Lilly, 1-877-795-4559.

Dorothy Armstrong of Phoenix takes 14 medications costing $713 a month to manage her diabetes and heart disease. Her state financial assistance was withdrawn on Saturday. She has turned off her baseboard heat to try to make ends meet. Mail Tribune / Andrew Mariman - Mail Tribune Andrew Mariman