The National Council on Aging (NCOA) is “disappointed” that Congress has not acted to make permanent a program that pays Part B premiums for some Medicare recipients, the organization’s vice president of public policy and advocacy tells Long-Term Living. Not doing so “could harm vulnerable, low-income people” receiving aid, Howard Bedlin notes. The organization, however, is "cautiously optimistic" that the program will be made permanent in 2014.
The Senate Finance Committee has proposed extending the Qualified Individual (QI) program for five years. “We’re going to keep on fighting” to make the program permanent, Bedlin adds. A bill put forth by the Finance Committee also would permanently allocate $25 million per year for Medicare outreach and enrollment activities for low-income individuals, the NCOA notes.
The QI program pays Part B premiums for Medicare recipients who have incomes between 120 and 135 percent of the poverty level, or about $13,700 to $15,550. The NCOA was one of 60 national organizations that had joined forces to send letters to Senate Finance Committee [PDF] and House Ways & Means Committee [PDF] leaders Dec. 9 as those committees prepared to consider the program as part of the Medicare physician sustainable growth rate (SGR) bill. “Without QI assistance, low-income Medicare beneficiaries would be forced to spend $104.90 per month on Part B premiums or lose their Part B benefit,” the letters stated, noting that the dollar amount represents about 10 percent of a QI recipient’s monthly income.
In addition to the letters sent by the 60 groups advocating for senior citizens and the disabled, another letter circulated by Families USA put an additional 52 groups behind making the QI program permanent, Bedlin says, for a total of 112.
The House voted last week, and the Senate is expected to vote this week, on a three-month extension of various Medicare programs, including the QI program, as part of a budget agreement to ensure that the programs don’t expire Dec. 31. The NCOA says the extension also includes monies to help low-income Medicare beneficiaries:
- $3.75 million each for Area Agencies on Aging and State Health Insurance Assistance Programs,
- $2.5 million for Aging and Disability Resource Centers, and
- $2.5 million to contract with NCOA's Center for Benefits Access.
Since 2002, QI funding has been extended on a year-to-year basis. The NCOA is “cautiously optimistic” that QI permanency will be part of Congress’ efforts to permanently fix the SGR, which could occur in the first quarter of 2014, Bedlin says. The temporary three-month SGR extension would go through the end of March.
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