About two million low-income seniors are eligible for extra benefits to cover drug costs but are not taking advantage of them, says the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Medicare beneficiaries who qualify for the drug assistance program known as “Extra Help” would pay no more than $2.50 for generic drugs and $6.30 for each brand name drug. Extra Help can save eligible seniors an average of $3,900 a year. It helps cover most of drug plan premiums, deductibles, and co-pays, and even provides coverage in the “doughnut hole” when total drug costs exceed $2,840.
Federal officials say it’s easier to qualify for the program due to some recent changes. Medicare beneficiaries must have incomes less than $16,335 a year ($22,065 for married couples) and savings limited to $12,640 ($25,260 for married couples). Savings and resources include bank accounts, stocks, and bonds, but a beneficiary’s house, car and life insurance policies are not counted. Also not counted: any assistance received from family and friends to pay for household expenses like food, mortgage, rent, utilities and prescriptions.
The benefit is not automatic. Medicare beneficiaries must apply for it, and then enroll in a drug plan to get Extra Help coverage. To apply for Extra Help, go online to the Social Security website, or apply over the phone at 1-800-772-1213 and ask for the Application for Medicare’s Part D Extra Help. Medicare beneficiaries can get help applying for the benefit and drug plans from their State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), Area Agencies on Aging and Aging and Disability Resource Centers. For contact information, go to www.eldercare.gov.