Medicare changes aim to help with bills, seniors told

Medicare officials last week announced changes to one of their subsidies for low-income seniors, a program known as “Extra Help” that is aimed at helping low-income seniors who are struggling to pay their medical bills. Newly allotted funding can be used to pay anything from medication to preventive care.

A meeting was held last Thursday at the Mattapan Public Library to spread awareness of the program and to lay out the changes in its eligibility policies, a result of new Medicare procedures under this year’s national healthcare legislation.

Officials hope that programs like Extra Help will help to close what is called the Medicare Part D coverage gap, a hole in Medicare coverage between the “initial” and “catastrophic” coverage ranges. This gap has meant that Medicare beneficiaries were 100 percent responsible for their prescriptions after their costs have passed Medicare’s “initial” coverage level up to the so-called “catastrophic” category.

Under the new healthcare law, these beneficiaries can expect up to $250 in rebates to help with bills that fall into the gap.

“We are afraid that people will stop going to the doctor or taking their medicine because of the sheer cost,” said Jaye Weisman, the Regional Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “We want to prevent that from happening while resources are available to them.”

The meeting, run by state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry, was a bilingual affair, held in Haitian Creole and English to accommodate Mattapan’s substantial Haitian community. According to Medicaid officials, ethnic populations are part of a large group of people who could be receiving aid.

“Our largest concern is the sheer numbers of people who are eligible for the program, but have not applied. There are a number of target populations and the Haitian communities are part of that,” said Weisman.

Although Extra Help is open only to Medicare recipients, Medicare will be participating with SHINE (Serving the Health Information Needs of Elders), a local financial counseling organization that will be holding financial consulting hours at the Library by appointment.

“I think what’s important is that this shows that President Obama and his team are really bringing healthcare reform down to the grassroots…to say that we care, ” said Rep. Dorcena Forry, who is married to Reporter managing editor Bill Forry.