• Save on drug costs
     | November 25,2012

    The cost of prescription drugs can have severe impacts on a family budget. Making ends meet should not mean going without your medications. All people with Medicare, as well as their family and friends, need to be aware of a special program that offers assistance to Medicare beneficiaries who might have trouble paying for their prescription drugs.

    Medicare’s “Extra Help” program helps pay the costs of a person’s Medicare prescription drug coverage. If you qualify, you’ll get help paying for Medicare prescription drug coverage premiums, copayments and deductibles. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services estimates that more than 2 million people with Medicare may be eligible for this help, but aren’t currently enrolled to take advantage of the savings.

    A recent law changed the way income and assets are counted. Life insurance policies don’t count as assets and any help you get from relatives, friends and others to pay for household expenses — like food, mortgage, rent, heating fuel or gas, electricity, water, and property taxes — doesn’t count as income. As a result of these changes, many people qualify for extra help and don’t know it.

    To qualify, you must make less than $16,755 a year (or $22,695 for married couples). Even if your annual income is higher, you still may be able to get some assistance. Your assets must also be limited to $13,070 (or $26,120 for married couples). Assets include bank accounts, stocks, and bonds, but not your house or car. This year, people who qualified for the full amount of Extra Help paid no more than $2.60 for each prescription for a generic drug and $6.50 for each prescription for a brand name drug.

    Applying for Extra Help is free and easy. Even if you were previously turned down for Extra Help due to income or resource levels, you should reapply. We are in the middle of Medicare Open Enrollment (Oct. 15 to Dec. 7) and many people are trying to figure out what Medicare Advantage or prescription drug plan is the best fit. While you’re reviewing options, take the time to apply for Extra Help, it could save you money.

    For more information about the Extra Help program or to find out if you qualify contact the Vermont State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) at (800) 642-5119. You can also apply online by visiting www.socialsecurity.gov/i1020, or by calling (800) 772-1213. TTY users should call 1-800-325-0778. To learn more about Medicare prescription drug coverage, visit www.medicare.gov, or call (800) MEDICARE. TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048.

    Ray Hurd is acting regional administrator forCenters for Medicare & Medicaid Services in Boston.

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