Half of seniors eligible for drug benefit don’t apply

A little Extra Help could do senior citizens a world of good, literally and figuratively.
That’s the name for a Medicare benefit that can greatly help low-income elderly people pay for their prescriptions, but one that far too many of those eligible for it don’t know exists.
“More than 2 million people on Medicare could be getting their prescription drugs nearly for free, but don’t,” according to a recent story by Mark Miller of Reuters news service. “That’s because they have not signed up for Extra Help, an important Medicare benefit that subsidizes drug costs for low-income senior citizens.
“Extra Help can pay nearly all of the prescription drug costs a senior incurs in a Part D drug plan. It is provided automatically to seniors receiving Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income benefits. In some states, Extra Help also is automatic for people receiving benefits through the Medicare Savings Program, which helps subsidize Medicare Part A (hospitalization) and Part B (outpatient) premiums.”
However, for those who qualify but just not automatically, less than half are enrolled in Extra Help, Jack Hoadley, a research professor at the Health Policy Institute of Georgetown University who tracks the program, told Reuters.
“The government reaches out with information on this from time to time,” Hoadley was quoted as saying. “What’s harder is to figure out how to reach out specifically to people who are eligible.”
“The benefit is substantial – annual savings can easily total $800 on premiums and deductibles, and can be much higher for seniors with high drug spending,” Miller wrote. “Two factors determine your eligibility for Extra Help: income and assets. Your income cannot exceed the federal poverty level guidelines. For seniors with incomes of 135 percent of the federal poverty level or lower, Medicare pays the entire annual premium, expected to average $480 next year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Extra Help also covers deductibles, which typically run $310 for the year.”
Seniors who wish to learn more about Extra Help may do apply online at secure.ssa.gov/i1020/start or call 1-800-772-1213 to get the process started.

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