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Medicare recipients could be eligible for extra help

Corinne Saunders

The Daily Advance

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Nearly 8 percent of Pasquotank County’s approximately 6,700 Medicare recipients are considered eligible for a program capable of providing them extra help but have not yet applied for it.

That’s according to Yvonne Mullen, a family and consumer sciences agent with the Pasquotank Center of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service.

To get those 556 people signed up for the Low-Income Subsidy program, which is also called Relay for Extra Help, Mullen and other Extension agents have teamed up with a division of the North Carolina Department of Insurance called Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program to spread the word.

The Low-Income Subsidy program assists low-income Medicare beneficiaries with out-of-pocket expenses associated with Part D (prescription drug) coverage, such as co-pays, deductibles, drug costs and gap coverage, Mullen said.

Medicare is a federally funded health insurance program mainly focused on individuals 65 and older, Mullen said.

Persons younger than 65 who receive social security benefits or disability, or who have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, or end-stage renal disease are also eligible, she noted.

“When a person applies for Medicare, they are automatically enrolled into the Part A,” Mullen said. “That is the hospital coverage.”

Enrollees can then choose to apply for Part B, which covers doctors’ visits and testing.

Part C “could be a supplemental plan,” she said, and Part D is the prescription drug plan.

The only requirement to enroll in Part D is being a Medicare recipient of either Part A or parts A and B.

Medicare Part D has with no income or asset restrictions “because it is a federal mandate for Medicare recipients to have credible coverage,” Mullen said. That coverage can also come through an employer or a group plan, Mullen said.

If Medicare recipients have no credible coverage through any other health insurance plan and choose not to enroll in Part D, they will face a financial penalty under the Affordable Care Act, Mullen noted.

The open enrollment period for Medicare Part D is Oct. 15 through Dec. 7.

New enrollees have a seven-month window to sign up for Part D coverage, which takes effect three months before the month prospective enrollees turn 65, includes the month of their birthday and ends three months after their birthday month, according to www.medicare.gov.

Extension staff members distribute information about open enrollment in Medicare Part D to drug stores, doctors’ offices, senior centers and other public sites that Medicare recipients may visit, Mullen said.

She advises persons interested in the extra help program to schedule appointments by calling the Extension office at 252-338-3954. She said Extension staff will assist walk-ins as they are able.