About 14% of Expected Number of Medicare Beneficiaries Approved for Financial Assistance
About 661,000 low-income seniors have been approved by the Social Security Administration for additional financial assistance under the new Medicare benefit, about 14% of the population the government has estimated would apply and be approved, SSA said on Friday, the Los Angeles Times reports. The supplemental assistance is available to seniors with annual incomes lower than $14,355 for an individual and below $19,245 for a couple.
Individuals can have no more than $10,000 in assets, and couples are limited to $20,000. There is no deadline to apply for financial assistance.
SSA said it had received about 3.8 million applications for the assistance, and about 2.8 million had been processed. About 400,000 applications were filed in error. Of the remaining 2.4 million that were processed, about 60% of applicants were rejected because their assets were too large.
About six million individuals who are dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid will be automatically enrolled in the Medicare drug benefit and will pay no monthly premiums or annual deductibles, but will pay "modest" pharmacy copayments, the Times reports.
Mark Lassiter, a spokesperson for SSA, said, "This is a difficult population to reach. That's why we are going to continue working hard... We're determined."
James Firman, president of the National Council on the Aging, which is helping to sign up seniors for the benefit and related subsidies, said, "We knew it was going to be a long, hard road to enroll the people who are eligible for the extra help. We will be sitting down with Social Security next week to talk about how the private sector can work more closely with the government to improve on the results" (Alonso-Zaldivar, Los Angeles Times, 12/3).
The New York Times on Monday examined how, instead of "doing victory laps" about the new Medicare prescription drug benefit, Republican lawmakers have been trying "to ease widespread confusion and apprehension" in meetings with beneficiaries. Some analysts say Republicans "have clear political ownership of [the drug benefit] and whatever credit or blame it brings," the Times reports. According to the Times, congressional Republicans "have a keen political interest" in the successful implementation of the drug benefit, "which happens to begin in a highly competitive midterm election year."
Glen Bolger, a Republican pollster, said that the drug benefit is "going to be associated with Republicans, so [they] better make sure it's something [seniors] understand and take advantage of."
Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said the provision banning the federal government from negotiating lower drug prices is not popular with seniors, and baby boomer women have reacted negatively to the benefit's complexity.
The Times reports that "many Democratic strategists argue" the benefit "could be much more of a problem than an asset for Republicans next year."
Connecticut state Sen. Christopher Murphy (D), who is running for a U.S. House seat in 2006, said beneficiaries are "realizing that [the benefit] was constructed to help the insurance industry and the drug industry."
However, "Republicans angrily respond that Democrats have sought partisan advantage on the drug issue from the start -- often heedless of what it might mean for retirees who could in fact be helped by the program," the Times reports.
Rep. Anne Northup (R-Ky.) said, "It's been so disheartening for me to see the Democrats almost hope bad things will happen so they can gain some political advantage" (Toner/Pear, New York Times, 12/5).
Additional information about the Medicare drug benefit is available online.