Aging council voices concern about Medicare QI expiration dateNews added by Benefits Pro on March 7, 2014

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By Paula Aven Gladych

The National Council on Aging praised the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging for holding a hearing on gains in senior income security since President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty in the 1960s but emphasized that the job is far from over.

“Medicare and Social Security have brought millions of older Americans out of poverty,” said Howard Bedlin, vice president for public policy and advocacy at the National Council on Aging. “Yet today, one in three older adults over age 60—more than 23 million seniors—still lives with economic insecurity.”

He pointed out that low-income seniors depend on these programs to help them pay for growing out-of-pocket health care costs. The Council is worried that the Medicare Qualified Individual Program will expire on March 31 unless Congress acts. QI pays Medicare Part B premiums for beneficiaries with incomes of $13,700-$15,500 per year. If it expires, these seniors could be forced to drop the Part B benefit and lose access to their doctors or pay over $1,200 in new, additional premiums.

“Without QI, a senior with just $14,000 a year in income would have only $9,000 left for all their other living expenses,” Bedlin said. “This could be a battle lost in the War on Poverty. Congress needs to make the QI program permanent this year as part of the permanent Medicare physician payment fix.”

QI is one of the Medicare Savings Programs that are designed to help low-income people with Medicare afford their premiums and cost-sharing. Yet these programs continue to include restrictions that bar some vulnerable seniors from enrolling.

Currently, people under age 65 are eligible for help with copayments and deductibles if their income is below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, and there is no asset test. People over age 65, however, are eligible only if their income is below 100 percent of poverty, and they must meet a strict asset test.

“This policy penalizes low-income seniors who did the right thing during their working years by creating a modest nest egg of savings,” Bedlin said. “It’s time for Congress to end this age discrimination and provide the same help with health costs for all low-income Americans, regardless of age.”

In addition to health costs, millions of seniors continue to struggle with rising food costs. Only 1 in 3 seniors who qualifies for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program actually receives this benefit. A recent $8.6 billion cut to SNAP means even fewer vulnerable seniors will have access to this program that helps pay for nutritious food.

“Without these critical low-income programs, millions of vulnerable older adults will be forced to make difficult choices between buying groceries or filling prescriptions; putting food on the table or paying utility bills,” Bedlin said.

The National Council on Aging is the nation’s leading nonprofit service and advocacy organization representing older adults and the community organizations that serve them.

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