The state’s way to help Missourians plug a big gap in the new federal Medicare prescription drug program has received first-round approval from the State Senate. The new federal law helps low-income senior citizens pay their drug bills for the first $2,250. Then it stops and does not help again until the person has spent $5,100. The Senate has advanced the bill that would have the state pay 75 percent of that $2,850 gap. But that’s only the first year, 2006. The federal government estimates that funding gap will increase by 11 percent each year for the next four years. Senator Ken Jacob of Columbia says the Missouri program should keep up. He has put an escalator clause in the bill that could let the state appropriate money to keep the gap closed. But if the state cannot afford that increase, it would not have to put more money into the program. Enrollment for the new program will begin in November of 2005. At the start of 2006, the present Missouri SeniorRX program goes away, replaced by the new gap-closing program which will be called the Msisouri Senior Prescription Program. The Senate will send the bill to the House when it comes back from the Legislature’s spring break.