MEDICARE: New Program To Boost Awareness Of Subsidies
A new federal campaign launched yesterday aims to promote Medicare assistance programs to millions of elderly Americans who do not know they are available. With Medicare premiums on the rise, lawmakers passed a series of laws over the last decade that subsidizes premiums for poor beneficiaries. But a report released today by Families USA shows that as many as four million senior citizens may be unaware that they can get federal help. The lack of information could mean up to $2 billion is being improperly deducted from the Social Security checks of the poor elderly to cover the premiums, the Austin American-Statesman reports (Lipman, 7/7). President Clinton announced an information campaign that will target Medicare beneficiaries with direct mailings, simplified application processes and information on the Medicare Website. "It's a matter of constant work; going to the Social Security field offices, going to other enrollment centers where people go," said Christopher Jennings, Clinton's health policy adviser. "We want to go to the providers, we want to go to the senior centers, the adult day centers, nursing homes and other places where we can target the populations who are eligible," he said (Cimons, Los Angeles Times, 7/7). Clinton said the information campaign will provide seniors "more affordable health care without any new congressional action," the Tulsa World reports (Myers, 7/7). The Wall Street Journal reports that Clinton's announcement today could be an indication that he is setting his sights on domestic issues -- including health care --following his return from China (McGinley, 7/7).
Many senior citizens "don't realize they are eligible" for government help in paying their premiums, and others stumble over "cumbersome" application processes, the Families USA report found. But the group's executive director, Ron Pollack, lauded Clinton's information effort as a step toward increasing seniors' participation in the program, the Austin American-Statesman reports. "The steps outlined today by the president will go a long way to ensuring that low-income Medicare beneficiaries will have a much better chance to get their Medicare premiums subsidized so that their meager Social Security checks are no longer deducted," Pollack said (7/7). He added, however, that the government could do more -- he said "people should be allowed to sign up for the assistance at Social Security offices, where they enroll for Medicare" instead of at state Medicaid offices (Wall Street Journal, 7/7).
The report found that between 3.3 million and 3.9 million eligible low-income and disabled beneficiaries are not receiving subsidized benefits -- a loss of between $1.8 and $2 billion in Social Security deductions. Seniors in some of the nation's largest states are especially hard hit by the Social Security deductions, the report found. In Texas, $194 million to $212 million is deducted from the checks of 370,000 to 404,000 eligible seniors; in Florida, $132 million to $145 million from 252,000 to 275,000 seniors. "Individuals eligible for buy-in protection can benefit greatly from the extra income they retain from this critical program," the report concludes. "Low-income Medicare beneficiaries should not have to choose between food, shelter and needed health care" (Families USA report). "The president's actions are likely to result in significant savings for low-income seniors and people with disabilities -- savings achieved by ensuring that these people have their Medicare premiums paid for by congressionally enacted programs," Pollack said (Families USA release, 7/6).
On The Left Coast
Health Access California Executive Director Bruce Livingston said more than 174,000 low-income elderly in the state are eligible for the federal subsidies by applying through the Medi-Cal program, "but they've been shortchanged" more than $50 million. "People don't know these subsidy programs exist," Livingston said. "The state has done almost no outreach. In one program, even if you go to the Medi-Cal office, you can't apply because the state has not got its computer system operating. They put your name on a piece of paper for a waiting list" (release, 7/6). Click here to see the full text of the Families USA report on the group's Website -- www.familiesusa.org.