While the recent government shut-down found elected officials in Washington wrangling over the Affordable Care Act's ailing website, back home in New Trier Township, social worker Jeanne Rosser was up to her elbows dealing with real-life medical emergencies.

There was the single parent with a child whose chronic illness required medication for which her health insurance plan would no longer pay.

And a senior citizen on a fixed income had been prescribed multiple medications — but a limited budget forced her to choose which ones she will actually take.

And the elderly married couple, for whom one spouse has decided to forgo taking his medication so there is enough money in their meager budget to pay for his wife's prescription.

"I'm hearing from people who are employed, who have health insurance and where everything looks good on paper," said Rosser. "But we are seeing a consistent number of cases where there is an urgent need to fill a prescription and it remains out of their financial reach."

Just across the street from the township's administration building at 739 Elm St. in Winnetka, Mark Jacobs, the owner of Conney's Pharmacy, was witnessing the same sad scenario – customers with health insurance, but for whom high co-pays for numerous prescriptions made purchasing their medications a monthly high-wire act.

"Paying for prescriptions has always been a problem for some of our customers, and these days, it's becoming even more of a problem," said Jacobs, who has partnered with township officials as they kick-off their "Bridge the Gap" program, which allows donors to purchase vouchers from Conney's at 736 Elm St., as well as gift cards from Walgreens and CVS, all of which will be distributed to township residents during medical prescription emergencies.

As offered in $25, $50 and $100 denominations, participating donors are asked to bring the pharmacy vouchers and gift cards to the township, where officials said they will be kept in reserve for use when individuals who do not have the money to fill a necessary prescription come for help.

New Trier Township Supervisor Paddie Brennen said that it is not uncommon to meet local residents who find themselves so financially strapped that they are forced to choose between purchasing food or medicine.

Brennen said the need became obvious to her last December, after she gathered with elderly residents receiving gift baskets from the township's Senior Snowflake program. While the recipients expressed gratitude for their holiday presents, many also shared worries over how to pay for their medications.

"Now, residents who are dealing with this stress, and who might be missing pills to make their prescription last longer, can go to the township and get help," Brennen said.

Officials said they also meet a number of residents who are caught in the limbo of an insurance recertification period in which their medication is not covered. Other residents include those who were recently released from a mental health hospital and referred to a community agency, but learn it will take several days to schedule an intake appointment creating a need for immediate medical assistance.

"We are hearing from people who live on the North Shore and are on fixed incomes," Brennen said. "If their car breaks down, it can become a choice between taking their medication or getting their car fixed. But there are layers of people out here who need help with paying for their prescriptions — young and old, disabled and mentally ill, they fall into all categories."

For details on the townships "Bridge the Gap" program, call Jeanne Rosser at 847-446-8201.

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