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AARP joins campaign for ballot initiative.

Byline: Tim Christie The Register-Guard

Sponsors of Initiative 122 face what at first blush looks to be a daunting task to get their measure on the November ballot: collect 50,000 signatures in 25 days without using paid signature gatherers.

But then, the sponsors have a secret weapon: an army of 475,000 members of AARP in Oregon, who have been enlisted to help get the necessary signatures.

"We're optimistic," Jerry Cohen, director of Oregon AARP, said Monday during a campaign event in Eugene. "It's tight, but we feel comfortable we'll hit our cushion."

The campaign marks the first time AARP, the senior advocacy organization, has gotten directly involved in getting an initiative on a ballot, in Oregon or elsewhere, Cohen said.

The initiative would expand the existing Oregon Prescription Drug Program, which saves eligible Oregonians up to 60 percent on medications through discounts and rebates. By buying drugs in bulk, the state program is able to bargain for below-market prices.

The program is now open to anyone 54 and older who earns less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level - about $19,100 for a single person. It's also open to state agencies and local schools and governments that buy prescription drugs.

Initiative 122 would eliminate age and income requirements and abolish waiting periods, which would open up the program to more than 750,000 Oregonians who don't have health insurance or don't have a drug benefit in their plan.

Sponsors say expanding the program would not cost any additional tax dollars because the state already has the staff in place to run the program and because the expansion will pay for itself through the savings realized from discounts and rebates.

"This is a no-brainer initiative," said Sen. Bill Morrisette, D-Springfield, who filed the measure in November. "It doesn't cost anything."

To date, sponsors have gathered about 50,000 signatures on petitions.

They need 75,630 valid signatures by July 7, which means they need a total of about 100,000 to provide a cushion for signatures found to be invalid, Cohen said.

AARP Oregon mailed petitions to about half its Oregon members in late April, and the rest received petitions in the past week, Cohen said.

AARP's partners on the project include Oregonians for Health Security, Our Oregon, Service Employees International Union, the Oregon Education Association and Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon.

AARP turned to the initiative process after a similar piece of legislation died in the Legislature last year, Cohen said.

"Our bias is to work with the Legislature, but if the Legislature bottles something up, this gives us an alternative," he said.
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Title Annotation:Health; Backers of the measure, which would expand drug coverage, seek 50,000 signatures by July 7
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 13, 2006
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