SALEM - Low-income seniors in Umatilla and Morrow counties can begin requesting applications Monday for the state's self-supporting program to link them with discounts of 10 percent to 20 percent on prescription drugs.

About 35 percent of the state's 750-plus pharmacies have signed up to participate, including eight chains and a mail-order pharmacy.

In addition to Umatilla and Morrow counties, beginning Monday seniors in Crook, Deschutes, Grant, Harney, Jefferson, Malheur and Multnomah counties may call (800) 359-9517 for an application. TTY users may call (800) 621-5260 to request an application or (800) 735-1232 for help in completing an application.

Counties already in the program include Baker, Gilliam, Hood River, Sherman, Union, Wallowa, Wasco and Wheeler.

The toll-free phone line accepts calls weekdays (except holidays) from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Callers will be sent a one-page application to complete and return, and will be asked for the $50 annual fee only after they are found to be eligible. A senior will then receive an enrollment card he or she may use at participating pharmacies.

To be eligible, seniors must be 65 years or older, have an income below 185 percent of the federal poverty level ($16,391 annually for an individual), have less than $2,000 in liquid assets (primary residence and car don't count), and not have been covered by a public or private drug benefit program in the prior six months.

As many as 100,000 seniors are believed to be eligible for the program, authorized by the 2001 Oregon Legislature and supported solely by seniors' annual application fees.

Fifty-seven percent of Oregon's seniors have no insurance for drug costs. The Governor's Commission on Senior Services reported that among Oregon seniors who are uninsured for prescription drug costs, 50 percent take partial doses to stretch medications, 83 percent skip filling prescriptions, 71 percent say they spend less on food, rent, heat and clothing to offset drug costs, and 22 percent buy drugs at savings from vendors in Canada or Mexico.

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