Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy held a seminar on Monday at Hofstra University for veterans with guests speaking about veterans' affairs. When it came time for a question and answer period, several veterans in attendance voiced their concern about a recent Veterans Affairs (VA) proposal that would increase the copayment some veterans make for outpatient prescriptions from $2 for each 30-day supply of medication furnished on an outpatient basis for treatment of a nonservice-connected condition to $7.
For the past decade, the copayment has been $2. The VA cited the rising costs of prescription drugs as a reason for the $5 increase. In 1990, the VA says it spent $715 million for pharmaceuticals. In 2000, the VA says the costs rose to $2.1 billion while the copay remained the same. During fiscal year 2000, 1.1 million veterans received medication from the VA, averaging 47 prescriptions each, according to a press release issued by the VA in July.
"Congress had given the VA authority to take a look at that and determine what it could do to increase the resources that would offset the high costs of prescriptions," said public affairs officer for the VA Medical Center in Northport Joe Sledge.
During fiscal year 2000, the VA collected $101 million in fiscal year 2000 for medication copays. According to the VA, it is anticipated that the same number of veterans will continue to use the VA at the new copayment rate, generating an increase in payments to $250 million annually. The VA says every dollar collected will be returned to the VA facility where the veterans received the medical care and believes the proposed $7 medication copayment would be lower than or equal to most medication copayments charged by the private health care industry.
However, many veterans present at the Congresswoman's seminar voiced their displeasure with the proposal, saying the VA should not be compared with outside agencies.
"I certainly object to it. When you go from $2 to $7, you're creating problems for a lot of senior citizen veterans," said a veteran from Franklin Square. "A lot of them can't afford it. The $7 is just too darn much. In some cases, it's more than you can get at a drug store."
With the increase to $7, the maximum annual out-of-pocket payment is $840 for veterans in certain enrollment categories. A bill (H.R. 2820) would suspend for five years the authority of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to increase the copayment amount in effect for medication furnished by the secretary on an outpatient basis for the treatment of non-service-connected disabilities. However, the bill is still in committee while many veterans fear the increase in copayment is right around the corner.
Commissioner for Veterans Affairs for Nassau County Pat Yngstrom said the proposal to increase the copayment from $2 to $7 is on the Congressional register and could take effect as early as January or February.
Yngstrom said what concerns him the most, though, is an opening in the proposal that would enable the VA to continue to raise the copayment costs. Also, with every dollar it is increased past $7, another $120 is added to the maximum annual out-of-pocket payment. With the annual cap at $840 for a $7 copayment, the cap would increase to $960 for a $8 copayment. Yngstrom fears that by the end of 2002, the copayment will be $15 with a cap of $1,800 of annual out-of-pocket payments. "That's going to affect the guys who are now retired," Yngstrom said. "When we went into the service, we were told that we were going to be taken care of and we're not."