CMS To Mail Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit Applications To Low-Income Seniors
The federal government in the near future will mail applications for the new Medicare prescription drug benefit to an estimated 15 million low-income beneficiaries who qualify for additional financial assistance with their medication costs, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports. The Medicare prescription drug benefit, which will begin on Jan. 1, 2006, will provide additional assistance with medication costs for beneficiaries with annual incomes at or less than 150% of the federal poverty level. In addition, Medicare beneficiaries with annual incomes at or less than 135% of the federal poverty level can receive their medications at no cost, except for a copayment of $2 to $5 per prescription.
Medicare will automatically enroll about half of the beneficiaries eligible for the additional assistance in the prescription drug benefit because they participate in other government programs. However, as many as 7.5 million low-income Medicare beneficiaries will have to complete a six-page application that requires details on their finances to enroll in the prescription drug benefit and receive the additional assistance. The application includes four pages of questions, a page of instructions and a page for the beneficiary to sign. The application includes 16 questions, although many Medicare beneficiaries will have to answer only 12, CMS Administrator Mark McClellan said. He added, "Line this application up against any other means-tested benefit. This one is the simplest by far. It's four pages, large type, fifth-grade level and no attachments."
However, advocates for Medicare beneficiaries have raised concerns about the complexity of the application process for the prescription drug benefit. Patricia Nemore, an attorney with the Center for Medicare Advocacy, said, "I think the whole process is so dastardly complex, it's bound to confuse." Robert Hayes, president of the Medicare Rights Center, added, "Realistically, if we hit 50% enrollment, we'll be slapping ourselves on the back."
McClellan said that the federal government has worked with the Access to Benefit Coalition to educate Medicare beneficiaries about the prescription drug benefit. "Make no mistake, this is a very challenging population to reach," he said, adding, "But that's why we're starting so early and using the simplest means-testing application ever" (Freking, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 5/25).
Additional information on the Medicare drug benefit is available online.