With a looming budget crisis, state leaders are proposing deep budget cuts, which could result in a significant loss of funding for senior services. Not only are programs like hospice and home care services in jeopardy, but Big Sky Rx is on the chopping block as well.

In a time of skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs, now is not the time to eliminate Big Sky Rx. We need Montanans from across the state to send a message to Gov. Steve Bullock and their legislators that this is not a good idea.

Prices for brand name drugs are increasing at record rates. According to the latest Rx Price Watch Report from the AARP Public Policy Institute, retail prices for widely used specialty prescription drugs increased substantially higher than general inflation in every year from 2006 to 2015 — more than 80 times faster in 2015 alone.

Big Sky Rx was created with the passage of Initiative 149 in 2004 when voters overwhelmingly approved an increase in tobacco taxes to pay for prescription drug assistance. The measure passed by a 2-to-1 margin. Bringing legislators from both sides of the aisle together with the business community, this landmark healthcare legislation was an initiative of a broad coalition of nonprofits and healthcare organizations.

The measure was implemented in the 2005 legislative session and had wide bipartisan legislative support, as well as the support of healthcare and consumer advocates, insurers and the business community including the Montana Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business.

Big Sky Rx received national accolades when it was recognized by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners as “One of Four Outstanding State Innovations in Healthcare.” Currently, more than 10,000 older Montanans are served by the prescription drug assistance program.

Montanans voted overwhelmingly to dedicate tobacco tax funds towards health-related programs, including prescription drug assistance for seniors. If Gov. Bullock and state leaders proceed with overturning the will of Montana voters, then Montana voters need to hold their elected officials accountable.

I urge Montanans to contact Gov. Bullock and their state legislators and tell them not to thwart the will of the people; keep Big Sky Rx intact as Montana voters decisively intended.

Montanans can send a message by logging onto www.aarp.org/MT and clicking the appropriate link.

Claudia Clifford is the Montana advocacy director for AARP.

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