Savvy Senior
by Dr. Jim Miller
Jun 15, 2011 | 1854 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dear Savvy Senior,

What kinds of programs are available to help low-income seniors with their Medicare costs and other expenses? My 81-year-old mother has gone through her savings and is having a tough time getting by on her Social Security benefits. What can you tell us?

Worried Son

Dear Worried,

There are actually a variety of under-utilized programs that can help lower-income seniors with their Medicare costs, grocery bills, utility expenses and more. Here’s what you should know.

Medicare Savings Programs

For millions of seniors who are having a tough time paying their out-of-pocket healthcare costs, help is available through Medicare Savings Programs (MSPs). These are Medicaid-administered programs that pay Medicare Part B premiums and depending on your mom’s finances may even pick up the tab on her Medicare copayments and deductibles. To qualify, her income must be under $1,246 per month (or $1,675 for a married couple), and her assets must be below $6,680 ($10,020 per couple) not including her house, vehicle, burial fund, furniture or other household items. To find out if she qualifies, or to apply, contact her local Medicaid office – call 800-633-4227 for contact information.

Extra Drug Help

If your mom is eligible for a MSP, she’s also eligible for “Extra Help” in paying her Medicare prescription drug plan costs. If, however, she’s not eligible she can still get Extra Help if her annual income is below $16,335 ($22,065 for a married couple living together), and her cash assets are under $12,640 ($25,260 for married couples) excluding her home and vehicle. For more information, call Social Security at 800-772-1213 or see www.ssa.gov/prescriptionhelp.

Food Assistance

In addition to the Medicare programs, your mom may also be able to get some help with her grocery bills. Food assistance programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) are available to seniors, age 60 and older, with cash assets under $3,000, and a “net income” below $903 per month ($1,215 for a family of two). Net income is figured by taking your mom’s gross income minus allowable deductions like medical expenses, rent or mortgage payments, utility costs, insurance, taxes and more. The average monthly SNAP benefit is currently around $101 per person. To find out if your mom qualifies, use the SNAP pre-screening tool at www.snap-step1.usda.gov or contact her local SNAP office – call 800-221-5689 for contact information.

Utility Assistance

There are also resources available that can help low-income seniors reduce their utility bills. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, as well as local utility companies and charitable organization help millions of Americans each year with their home heating and cooling costs. To search for help go to energynear.org, a web portal that provides information on all energy assistance programs in each state, along with qualification details, how to apply and who to contact. You can also call the National Energy Assistance Referral project at 866-674-6327.

Supplemental Income

Another program to check into is SSI or Supplemental Security Income. Administered by the Social Security Administration, SSI provides monthly payments to very low income seniors (age 65 and older), as well as to those who are blind and disabled. To learn more or find out if she’s eligible, visit www.ssa.gov/ssi or call 800-772-1213.

Savvy Tip: To search for other assistance programs, go to benefitscheckup.org, a comprehensive web service developed by the National Council on Aging, that contains a database of more than 2,000 federal, state and local programs that can help seniors in need. The site will help you locate programs that your mom may be eligible for and will show you how to apply. This service is only available online.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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