This is the latest in an occasional series focusing on the issues,
records and platforms of the state's candidates for governor.
Today's installment focuses on health care.
Carl and Irene Aldridge spend more than $400 on prescription drugs
every month. Irene, 70, has diabetes and is recovering from heart surgery.
Carl, 78, a retired dry wall installer, has a lung condition brought on by
years of exposure to asbestos.
The $400 covers only a portion of the St Albans couple's drug
remaining medications they can't afford.
"If we had to pay for all the medications we need every month, we
couldn't afford to buy groceries or pay our utility bills," Irene said
during a meeting of AARP in Charleston this summer.
"Please help us with our medication bills."
The Aldridges' plea is echoed by millions of people across West
Virginia and the nation this election year.
Their sentiments are not lost on the state's candidates for
Four gubernatorial candidates agree that drug prices have
with limited finances.
The four candidates agree something needs to be done to remedy
the problem. But they differ on ways to achieve that goal.
Major party candidates, incumbent Republican Gov. Cecil
Underwood and Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Bob Wise, use the issue in
their television campaign ads.
"He's helping seniors save on prescription drugs," says the off-camera
Wise's ad says, "He's going to take on the big drug companies
and end the rip-off. He'll cut prescription drugcosts so
Underwood's focus has been on taking advantage of existing programs
offered by pharmaceutical companies.
On July 15, the governor announced a plan to help low-income seniors
get prescription drugs by using drug manufacturers' giveaways. He
dubbed the program the Senior Prescription Assistance Network and said it
would help seniors apply for free and reduced-cost medications offered by
Gaylene Miller, commissioner of the state Bureau of Senior Services,
to pay for salaries and other compensation to new state workers in each
county. Another $2 million will be needed to cover administrative
"The plan would have at least one state employee in every county to
help eligible seniors with the paper work to apply for free and low-cost
Many pharmaceutical companies offer commonly-used drugs at no cost or
reduced costs, but the rules for eligibility and time limitations
of the benefits are different for each company.
Workers in Barbour, Tucker and Randolph counties - where the plan has
been operating as a pilot since July - say seniors often need help with
deciphering and filling out complex forms required by drug
Some state money would also be used for emergency drug
programs to kick in, so some money will be set aside for seniors'
Two days after Underwood's SPAN announcement, he appointed a 15-member
task force to study the feasibility of the plan and to study other
possible options for short-term relief for seniors.
The plan, now in the governor's hands, agrees with Underwood's original
idea of working with drug manufacturers on existing programs.
Underwood recently assigned the task force to work on a long-term plan,
which is due Jan. 1.
Miller emphasized that SPAN is a short-term solution. "Should Congress
enact a prescription assistance program as part of Medicare or create some
other national initiative, the focus of this program would be reviewed,"
Also, manufacturers programs have time limits. Some are non-renewable
and some require patients to fill out a new set of forms after 30, 60 or
Wise says his own plan involves a less cozy relationship with