WASHINGTON - Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) today sponsored the Requiring Emergency Pharmaceutical Access for Individual Relief (RELIEF) Act, legislation aimed at eliminating some of the problems faced by low-income seniors and individuals with disabilities under the new Medicare prescription drug program.

"Since the first of this year, seniors in Wisconsin and across the country have been denied or delayed access to the drugs they need to stay healthy." said Kohl. "It is inexcusable that the cost of providing these drugs has fallen on low-income individuals, pharmacies and states, while the Administration refuses to take responsibility. We need action now to fix the problems that could threaten the lives of our elderly and disabled constituents."

The legislation introduced today will provide guaranteed access to prescription drugs by: requiring drug plans to provide a minimum 30-day supply of drugs to beneficiaries who are enrolled in a plan that does not cover their necessary medications, while the beneficiaries look for a more suitable plan; reducing the burden on pharmacists by providing additional outreach and education to pharmacies and providing reimbursement for mandatory computer updates; and providing Federal reimbursement to states and beneficiaries who have incurred unexpected costs in filling the gaps of the federal benefit.

Since March 2005, Senator Kohl has made numerous efforts to work with the Administration to address the issues and challenges that this vulnerable population would face as they transition to the Medicare drug benefit. In March, 2005, Kohl served as Ranking Member at a hearing of the Senate Special Committee on Aging to address the potential problems of "dual eligibles" - those eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid coverage - who were to be automatically enrolled in Medicare's new drug benefit on January 1, 2006. At the hearing, representatives from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) testified that potential problems of comprehensive drug coverage and possible interruption were being handled, and that the agency was confident the transition would go smoothly. Following the hearing, Kohl and Chairman Gordon Smith (R-OR) wrote a letter to CMS reiterating the concerns raised at the hearing and making recommendations for a smoother transition.

In November, 2005, during consideration of the Fiscal Year 2006 Budget Reconciliation bill, Kohl cosponsored an amendment to provide a 6-month transition period for dual eligibles to Medicare. The amendment failed by a vote of 43-56.

In a December, 2005, Kohl sent a letter to Michael Leavitt, Secretary of Health and Human Services, again expressing his concern about enrollment and outreach to low-income and disabled beneficiaries and asking the Department to outline its plan to resolve problems with the upcoming transition. Last week, Kohl sent another letter to Leavitt expressing concern over the issue and citing numerous reports from people in the states, especially dual-eligibles, who have been denied or delayed access to the drug coverage they were promised.