More Medicare beneficiaries than ever will be able to get "Extra Help" in paying for their prescription drugs thanks to changes to Medicare's Low-Income Subsidy Program (also known as LIS or "Extra Help") that take effect this year.
Participants in the "Extra Help" program are eligible to pay no more than $2.50 for generic drugs and $6.30 for each brand name drug, saving them as much as $3,900 per year, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
Changes in federal law enacted as part of the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act (MIPPA) of 2008 make it easier for Medicare beneficiaries to qualify for "Extra Help" by changing the way income and assets are counted starting in 2010.
When determining eligibility for "Extra Help," the Social Security Administration, who handles enrollment in the program, now no longer count life insurance policies as a resource. In addition, help received from family and friends to pay for household expenses like food, mortgage, rent and utilities no longer count as income.
To qualify for "Extra Help," Medicare beneficiaries' incomes must be less than $16,245 a year ($21,855 for married couples) and have resources limited to $12,510 ($25,010 for married couples). Resources include bank accounts, stocks, and bonds, but do not include houses, cars, or life insurance policies.
CMS estimates that more than 1.8 million people with Medicare may be eligible for "Extra Help," but are not currently enrolled to take advantage of the savings.
"These changes to the 'Extra Help' program make it easier for more people to get help paying for their prescription drugs," said Marilyn Tavenner, CMS Principal Deputy Administrator in a press release. "Even if you were turned down for 'Extra Help' before, you should reapply. If you qualify, you will receive help paying for Medicare prescription drug coverage premiums, copayments and deductibles."