In an attempt to make Medicare recipients more aware of the extra help program for prescription drug costs, the Social Security Administration has mailed out 19 million applications in the past two years.
"We're in constant outreach mode," said John Garlinger, communications director for the Kansas City region of the SSA. For Medicare recipients to qualify for extra help through Social Security, income must be limited to $15,315 for individuals or $20,535 for a married couple living together. There are ways to qualify if a Medicare recipient's income is higher. For example, if the recipient supports family members in their home or if he or she resides in Alaska or Hawaii.
According to Ray Nedilnycky, assistant district manager of the Social Security office in Cape Girardeau, the extra help could be worth an average of $3,700 per year and can pay part of monthly premiums, annual deductibles and prescription co-payments.
Garlinger said about 2.3 million people have qualified nationally since the extra help program went into effect Jan. 1, 2006. In Missouri, out of 115,000 applications, 54,000 Medicare recipients were eligible for additional assistance. "I tell people, 'When in doubt, fill it out,'" Garlinger said, adding that the applications are four pages long.
Ruth Dockins, public information director at the Area Agency for Aging in Cape Girardeau, helps people 60 or older enroll in programs like the SSA's extra help. She said the Medicare prescription drug benefit -- known as Part D -- has had a huge effect on her clients since opening to enrollees Nov. 15, 2005.
"It's not a perfect answer, but it's a heck of a lot better than it was," said Dockins, referring to the cost of medication. "There were people not getting prescriptions at all. Others were taking half of their prescriptions at a time, or every other day, just to try to cut the cost of medication some. I know people who were spending $1,000 a month."
An application for extra help is available on the Web at www.socialsecurity.gov. To apply, call Social Security at (800) 772-1213 or visit a local Social Security office for more information.
335-6611, extension 137