SACRAMENTO – Many California seniors still face problems getting medications they need through the new Medicare drug benefit, nearly three months after the federal program started, witnesses told two state Assembly committees Tuesday. “It really is survival of the fittest,” said Jeanne Finberg, directing attorney for the National Senior Citizen Law Center. Finberg and other witnesses told the Assembly Health and Assembly Aging and Long-Term Care committees that the problems are particularly acute for about 1 million low-income seniors who were transferred to the new program from Medi-Cal, California’s health care program for the poor, on Jan. 1. Finberg said about a third of those so-called dually eligible seniors were assigned to new drug plans that cover less than 85 percent of the medications they need. Lawmakers passed legislation last month allowing the state to pay for prescriptions that the dual eligibles cannot get through the new Medicare program, but that authorization runs out May 15. As of March 16, the state had spent $39.7 million to pay for those prescriptions. Stan Rosenstein, director of medical services for the state Department of Health Services, said there have been some “horrible, horrible stories and several problems” with the new program. “But for a lot of people the program is working, especially people who are low-income but not dual-eligible,” he said. “It’s still a good benefit for people who did not have any coverage.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE‘Mame,’ ‘Hello, Dolly!’ composer Jerry Herman dies at 88 “They’re going to have to switch plans and they don’t know how or can’t do it,” she said. “There are many, many obstacles for well-educated individuals such as myself. It’s almost impossible for this (elderly) population.” Holly Leeds, an Auburn physician, said she has Medicare patients who have trouble getting the particular pain medication that works for them. She said she tells them, “My choice is to make you so dopey that you cannot function or to leave you in pain because it’s your fault that your metabolism works a little bit differently.” Other problems include data system failures, overcharging for prescriptions, inability to get answers to questions and lack of information about the program in languages other than English and Spanish, critics said. Michael Negrete, vice president for clinical affairs for the California Pharmacists Association, said nearly two-thirds of the pharmacists responding to his group’s monthly surveys said they have problems processing claims and getting paid through the new program.