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Medicare beneficiaries could get meds help

Some Medicare beneficiaries could qualify for assistance with their prescription drug costs, and be eligible this year to pay no more than $2.50 for generic drugs and $6.30 for each brand name drug.

The steps and requirements beneficiaries can take to check if they qualify for the Medicare Low-Income Subsidy Program (also known as LIS or "Extra Help") are simple and may be done by phone or online.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services estimates that more than 2 million people with Medicare may be eligible for the subsidy, but are not currently enrolled to take advantage of these savings.

Changes resulting from the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act (MIPPA) of 2008 made it easier for Medicare beneficiaries to qualify for "Extra Help" by changing the way income and assets are counted. As of last year, the Social Security Administration, which determines eligibility for the program, does not count life insurance policies as a resource for eligibility purposes. In addition, help received from family and friends to pay for household expenses like food, mortgage, rent and utilities does not count as income.

"The eligibility requirements are more flexible than they were a couple of years ago, 'Extra Help' can be lifesaving for someone who needs prescription drugs and needs help with the cost," said Dr. Don Berwick, CMS Administrator. "If you were turned down for 'Extra Help' in the past due to income or resource levels, you should reapply. If you qualify, you will receive help paying for Medicare prescription drug coverage premiums, co-payments and deductibles."

To qualify, Medicare beneficiaries' incomes must be less than $16,335 a year (or $22,065 for married couples) and have resources limited to $12,640 (or $25,260 for married couples). Resources include bank accounts, stocks, and bonds, but do not include a beneficiary's house, car, or life insurance policy.