Low Income Seniors Encouraged to Sign-Up For Drug Benefits

The search is on for lower income Houston residents who are already on Medicare but still can't afford expensive prescriptions. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, a local advocacy group and community leaders want to make sure older citizens access every financial resource available.

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Ron Cookston is the executive director of the non-profit Gateway To Care and says the message is quite simple.

"If people are on Medicare and are having difficulties paying for their prescriptions, there is a program called low income subsidy that they've earned that we need to help them sign-up for. In Houston, Harris County, there are 60,000 folks that are eligible for this resource that will help them pay for their medications."

Many of those low income citizens simply don't know they're eligible for the program or are intimidated by the paperwork involved. A new enrollment campaign called "My Medicare Matters" includes billboards telling residents who to call for help in getting all the benefits they deserve. Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia says it's not easy to track down people who are eligible.

"For us it's really about taking an extra step, about actually getting more engaged in going to all pockets like this and reaching folks and saying let us check. Don't assume that you've already signed-up for anything. Let us check. It's better for someone to tell you no, you're not qualified then to find out later that you could have had lower-cost prescription drugs and didn't take advantage of it."

At the North East Community Center just a few blocks from his home, Julio Ramirez says he isn't sure where to start. He's a veteran, but doesn't know if he qualifies for the extra drug help or not.

"There are so many benefits, Texas has so many that the state provides and then the federal. So you got so many different agencies where you can get this information but come down to which one you really need at one particular time is pretty hard."

In order to qualify for the prescription subsidy, a single person on Medicare must have an income less than $15,300 or an income less than $25,000 for a couple. Charlene James works with the Harris County Area Agency on Aging and says getting the word out is a community effort.

"Many people may feel like this doesn't apply to me, I can afford the prescriptions, but they have friends, neighbors, church family members or persons out of town who may be having some difficulty in paying for their prescriptions. So we want them to take advantage of the resources that are available."

There is additional information about the "My Medicare Matters" campaign on our website, KUHF.org.

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