Help For Low-Income Seniors in Jeopardy

Low-Income seniors might lose Medicare help they receive due to an error of omission in Washington – even though both political parties think the financial assistance program should continue. Funding for the Medicare Qualified Individual (QI) program will end on March 31st unless Congress takes action. The QI program pays Medicare Part B premiums for beneficiaries with incomes of about $13,700-$15,500 per year.

The QI program pays the $104.90 Medicare Part B premium for more than 520,000 Medicare beneficiaries with incomes between 120% and 135% of the Federal Poverty Level  (about $1,167 to $1,312 per month) and very limited resources (less than $13,000 for an individual), according to the Center for Medicare Advocacy (CMA).

QI program re-authorizaton is attached to the Medicare physician payment formula, known as the “Sustainable Growth Rate” (SGR), and has been extended annually in tandem with SGR.  The SGR change may be approved by Congress soon, but somebody left QI-funding out of the bill. And if the QI program is not funded, half a million low-income seniors and disabled Americans are going to get a big financial hit.

According to a CMA email, “Receipt of the QI benefit also automatically entitles individuals to, and enrolls them in, the full Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidy (LIS), or Extra Help, to help them pay for prescription drugs. According to the Social Security Administration, the Low-Income Subsidy can save participating beneficiaries as much as $4,000 per year toward the cost of prescription drugs”.

I have quite a few clients who get this help and they would be hard hit if their Part B Medicare premium is taken out of their Social Security check. That’s $104.90 for one person and $210 for a couple.  I don’t think they would lose the help they get with their drug costs since that comes through a different program called the Low Income Subsidy.

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