Seniors seek expansion of Medicare savings program
Group wants new plan to be part of FY 2021 budget
JOHN ROBINSON is very stringent about keeping track of his bills, especially when it comes to health care expenses. The 71-year-old retired Amtrak porter knows exactly how his $1,832 a month in income is divvied up. There’s the $144.50 automatically deducted from his Social Security check every month for Medicare Part B, which pays for outpatient care, medical supplies, and preventative health services.
Then there’s the supplemental insurance from Blue Cross, Blue Shield of Massachusetts that he spends $209 a month on. Dental insurance is another $61. His medications cost about $20 a month, along with another $35 for a prescription drug plan. And he spends about $300 on rent in Somerville disabled housing.
He was at the State House on Wednesday to lobby for what members of the advocacy group Mass Senior Action are calling “the 20/20 Vision,” an effort to expand the reach of the Medicare savings program beyond what it was raised to last year.
The Medicare savings program is a 54-year-old federal initiative that assists low-income seniors over 65 with copays, premiums, deductibles, and prescription coverage. It’s a patchwork of programs that covers the Medicare Part B Premium (at $144.50 per month) and automatically enrolls members in the federal Extra Help program, which provides about $4,900 annually to help cover deductibles, medications, and additional expenses.
Bostonian Rosemary Williams, 69, is hoping the new expansion will mean her health costs are reduced. She applied for the program last week, and hopes it can save her the $144.60 taken out of her social security check. “It could really benefit me when they approve me,” she said. Williams pays over $450 a month in health care expenses. The 32 percent she would save would be a big help.
Robinson and other seniors are pressing to raise the income level to 200 percent of the federal level and eliminate the asset restriction entirely, which would provide coverage for an additional 55,000 people.
Carolyn Villers, executive director of Mass Senior Action, said the expansion of the Medicare savings program would cost the state an additional $12 million a year, and save seniors $100 million.
Robinson, who is legally blind in one eye and had reduced sight in his other eye, is only $94 above the current income threshold. He said he thinks about his health issues constantly. “Let me give you an example of something I’ve denied myself because money’s so tight,” he said. “I recently didn’t get a shingles shot because it wasn’t covered and cost $170 out of pocket.”A Nov. 2019 report from UMass Boston details that Massachusetts seniors have the highest rate of economic insecurity in the country, with 62 percent of them unable to meet basic needs.
“Low income seniors are spending more than 20 percent of their income on health care,” said Sen. Brendan Crighton of Lynn on Wednesday. Crighton is in favor of expanding eligibility.