Thousands of Individuals Who Qualify for Public Health Programs Not Enrolled, Web Site Finds
Thousands of individuals who qualify for federal and state programs such as Medicaid and Medicare have not enrolled, according to an Internet site developed to help seniors determine their eligibility for benefits. The Wall Street Journal reports that the National Council on the Aging, a not-for-profit group based in Washington, D.C., launched the site,
www.benefitscheckup.org, in June. About 485,200 people nationwide completed a screening questionnaire at the Web site between June 2001 and December 2001. Seniors accounted for two-thirds of the participants, and about one-third of participants had annual incomes at or less than 150% of the federal poverty level. According to the Journal, 17% of the participants qualified for Medicaid but had not enrolled, and in Florida, 14,000 individuals, or about one-third of the 48,277 state residents who completed the questionnaire, qualified for the program but had not enrolled. "Legislators pass these programs and think the problem's solved, and they get frustrated when the take-up rate is so low," NCOA President James Firman said. The questionnaire at the Web site -- which determines eligibility for more than 1,000 federal and state programs, including state prescription drug benefits -- takes about 10 to 15 minutes to complete. The questionnaire asks for a participant's age, income and ZIP Code, but not name or Social Security number. Participants receive a list of programs for which they may qualify, with details about eligibility, where to find local offices and the records required to apply for the programs.
The NCOA plans to expand the Web site to include a Spanish-language page by the end of the year and hopes to test an organizational version of the Web site that could help not-for-profit groups and businesses track results for clients or employees. In addition, the Lucent Technologies Inc./Avaya Inc./Agere Systems Inc. Family Care Development Fund, one of the sponsors of the Web site, has awarded the NCOA a grant to help develop a program that will allow participants to download applications for federal programs. One group of community health centers, LifeLong Medical Care of Berkeley, has used the Web site to determine Medicaid eligibility for several hundred seniors in the past few months and helped them to apply for the program. "If we can put them on Medicaid, it saves us a substantial amount of money and makes it more feasible for us to keep serving older people and paying for things that Medicare doesn't cover," Marty Lynch, executive director of LifeLong Medical Care, said (Greene, Wall Street Journal, 4/2).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.