No Free Medicine in Pioneer Homes

The six Pioneer Homes around the state do not administer free prescription medicines to Disabled Veterans who reside there.  Instead, the residents are required to purchase their medication from the state assisted living facilities.

Legislators trying to change the practice are finding a knot between the state and federal agencies.

Free – or partially paid for —  medicine is available to veterans directly from the Veterans’ Administration if they have been declared more than fifty percent disabled.  However,  those medicines must be prescribed by a VA doctor and must be obtained from a VA pharmacy.  From there, it comes in medicine bottles like those used by local pharmacies.  If the veteran can take the medicine without nursing help,  there’s no problem.  But  staff at the Pioneer Homes can only distribute medicine that has been packaged for individual doses   They say their system is safer by avoiding errors.  That forces the residents to buy their medicine from the state instead of getting the medicine the VA provides.

In a letter to Homes administrators last week,   Nancy Dahlstrom and Bill Wielechowski – chairs of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees – along with Anchorage Democrat Les Gara offered to work with the administration to change that practice.    Gara says the problem must be solved for those who count on it.

You cannot tell a disabled veteran that, even though they’re entitled to free prescription medicine,  a sort of tiny bonus for what they’ve given to the country, that we’re still going to make them pay for it.  And that’s the policy right now. You’re entitled to free meds, but for those veterans who can’t administer it themselves, the Pioneer Home policy is to charge them for their prescription drugs.

The Pioneer Homes director  David Cote (KOH-tee) says he has been working with the VA since last spring, trying to find a way for the free medicine to get into the state system.

When I look at should I be giving someone a financial break, but perhaps have liability of perhaps making a medication error which could greatly harm a person,  then, you know,  I would side on the side of safety every single time.

The legislators and Cote say there are options available.  But none right now  that both the VA and the Pioneer Homes can accept.

— if the V-A would allow the state to fill the prescriptions, they would then have to give them to the state at no charge.

— if the state were to repackage the medicine into individual doses, pharmacists would still need information they cannot get, including a manufacturer’s license and expiration dates.

— if the state were to simply decide to provide free medicine – at state expense –avoiding   the VA system,  a VA doctor would still have to write a prescription that bypasses the VA’s pharmacy. And Cote says that one, single federal rule is the first and biggest obstacle to any change.

He says it’s not just about the Pioneer homes.  He has found that without the VA’s willingness to make any change in its own system,  a resolution is unlikely.

I don’t want to be disrespectful of the V-A. I do need to work with them.  We do have the only state veterans’ home, which is in Palmer. And we have a relationship that we’ve established by getting that home certified as a Veterans’ home. But I do have to say that working within their system is difficult at best.

Right now, the Homes have four hundred seventy residents.  A hundred fourteen of then are veterans. And, of those, the problems are centered on about twenty individuals.

Gara says he believes there are ways to deal with the problem, and he’s ready to introduce legislation if that’s what it takes.

Just a solution has to happen.  It’s just a question of what’s the solution going to be.

Wielechowski, Dahlstrom and Gara are scheduled to meet with Cote and Health and Social Services officials next week to go over the options that are still available to them.


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