“Extra Help” Program Helps Seniors with Medication Costs

By JIM MILLER

(SAVVY SENIOR) A low-income subsidy program called Extra Help can assist seniors on a tight budget with paying for their premiums, deductible, and co-payments in their Medicare (Part D) prescription drug plan.

Currently around 10 million people receive this subsidy, but another two million may qualify for it and don’t even realize it. They’re missing out on hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars in savings each year.

Changes in the law make it easier than ever to qualify for the Extra Help program. Even if you didn’t qualify before, you may be eligible now. The amount of additional assistance you would receive depends on income and assets. If you qualifiy for help, you’ll pay no more than $3.35 for a generic drug and $8.35 for a brand-name drug in 2018.

To get the subsidy, your assets can’t be more than $14,100 (or $28,150 for married couples living together). Bank accounts, stocks, and bonds count as assets, but a home, vehicle, personal belongings, life insurance and burial plots do not.

Also, monthly income can’t be more than $1,538 (or $2,078 for married couples). If you support a family member living with you, or you live in Alaska or Hawaii, your income can be higher.

In addition, the government won’t count any money if you receive help for household expenses like food, rent, mortgage payments, utilities, or property taxes.

How To Apply

There are three ways to apply for Extra Help: online at SSA.gov/prescriptionhelp; by calling Social Security at 800-772-1213; or by visiting your local Social Security office.

The application form is easy to complete, but you’ll need your Social Security number and information about bank balances, pensions, and investments. Social Security will review your application and send a letter within a few weeks letting you know whether you qualify.

If you don’t qualify for Extra Help, you may still be able to get help from a state pharmacy assistance program or a patient assistance program. Visit BenefitsCheckUp.org and click on “Medications” to search for these programs.

Other Medicare Assistance

If you are eligible for Extra Help, you may also qualify for help with other Medicare expenses through your state’s Medicare Savings Program.

State Medicaid programs partner with the federal government, so income and asset qualifications vary, depending on where you live. Medicare Savings Programs will pay an entire Medicare Part B premium each month.

Some also pay for Part B coinsurance and copayments, depending on income. Contact your state Medicaid office to determine if you qualify for benefits in your state.

You can also get help through you State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), which provides free one-on-one Medicare counseling in person or over the phone. To locate a SHIP counselor in your area, visit ShiptaCenter.org or call the eldercare locator at 800-677-1116. MSN

Send your senior questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of the book, The Savvy Senior.

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