Medicare Beneficiaries Will Not Have Food Stamps Reduced Under New USDA Guidelines
The U.S. Department of Agriculture posted formally revised guidelines on its Web site this weekend to ensure that low-income Medicare beneficiaries do not have their food stamp benefits reduced if they sign up for the $600 subsidies provided this year and next through Medicare's new prescription drug discount card program, CongressDaily reports (CongressDaily, 6/22). The issue came to light after a constituent recently contacted Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) with concerns that she might lose her food stamp benefits as a result of her participation in the drug discount card program. According to a memo issued in March by USDA, people receiving food stamps "may not claim a medical deduction" on reported income "for any prescriptions they receive free through use" of a Medicare drug discount card. The memo stated that the drug card program's $600 subsidy for low-income beneficiaries and any copayments beneficiaries made could be counted as medical deductions. As a result of the memo, Judy Toelle, director of South Dakota's food stamp program, said the program had been assuming that, for example, a person with $300 in monthly prescription drug spending might pay only $30 for medications after enrolling in the discount card program. Thus, the program would presume that person had $270 more in income and would reduce his or her food stamp allotment accordingly (California Healthline, 6/14).
USDA officials determined that the March memo "did not fully comport with" the Medicare law. The new guidelines give state food stamp agencies several ways to ensure that Medicare subsidies do not reduce the amount of food stamps provided to Medicare beneficiaries. According to CongressDaily, the guidelines "effectively give beneficiaries credit for medical expenses they may no longer have." Daschle said in a statement that USDA "has done the right thing" by developing the new guidelines. He added, "We were able to get Medicare and USDA to work together to correct an unfair policy that told some seniors they'd need to chose between help with their medicine or help with their food. That's not a choice" (CongressDaily, 6/22).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.