TRENTON – State lawmakers have begun the process of expanding New Jersey’s prescription drug benefit programs to more than 20,000 additional seniors, as suggested by Gov. Phil Murphy in his 2022 budget plan.

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Under the proposal, income limits for both Pharmaceutical Assistance for the Aged and Disabled and Senior Gold would increase by $10,000. They would be $38,769 for a single person and $45,270 for a married couple in PAAD, with those thresholds $10,000 higher under Senior Gold.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, said the cost for prescriptions can be so exorbitant that some seniors split their drugs in half to make them last longer, even though that makes them less effective.

“I think we can all agree the cost of prescription drugs obviously are a challenge for many of us – and obviously our seniors,” Vainieri Huttle said.

The bill was endorsed last week by the Assembly Aging and Senior Services Committee, and it’s now awaiting a second approval by the Assembly Budget Committee. The Senate Health and Senior Services Committee plans to take up the plan at its meeting Thursday.

Katie York, associate state director of advocacy for AARP New Jersey, said the average enrollee in Medicare Part D takes four to five prescription drugs a month, with some facing out-of-pocket costs of $10,000 a year.

“Too many Garden State residents are forced to choose between live-saving medications and paying rent, buying food and meeting other critical needs,” York said.

“In 2017, nearly one in four New Jerseyans stopped taking prescription medications due to cost, and we know that things haven’t gotten easier since,” she said.

Cathy Rowe, executive director of New Jersey Advocates for Aging Well, said the expansion would include up-front costs – estimated at nearly $7 million in PAAD, which accounts for about 95% of the expected increase – but yield long-term savings.

“We expect better health, reduced medical interventions, reduced disability and lower hospitalizations and emergency room visits,” Rowe said.

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Rowe said many older residents are caught in the middle when it comes to health care costs such as prescriptions and that it will only get more important and complicated as more drugs are approved to treat conditions, improving the quality and quantity of life.

“Their income is too high to qualify for Medicaid or other programs, but they don’t have the resources to live comfortably while providing for their medical needs,” Rowe said.

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