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Extra help available in paying drug plan costs

Medicare beneficiaries can sign up for, or change prescription drug plans from Nov. 15 until Dec. 31. Plans may have different costs and benefits from year to year. It is advisable for all beneficiaries to consider their options and make the best choice they can for the coming year.

Everyone is entitled to Medicare Part D Prescription drug coverage. People with limited income and resources are eligible for Extra Help to pay for the costs - monthly premiums, annual deductibles, and prescription co-payments - related to a Medicare prescription drug plan. The Extra Help is estimated to be worth an average of $3,900 per year. Many people with limited income and resources qualify for these savings and don't even know it. To find out if they are eligible, Social Security will need to know their income and the value of their savings, investments and real estate, other than their home. Those married and living with their spouses will have to provide this information for both of them.

Under a new law, more Medicare beneficiaries could qualify for Extra Help with their Medicare prescription drug plan costs because some things no longer count as resources and income. Life insurance policies are no longer counted as an asset. They also no longer count as income the help received when someone else provides food and shelter, or someone else pays household bills for food, mortgage, rent, heating fuel or gas, electricity, water and property taxes.

To qualify for Extra Help recipients must reside in one of the 50 states or the District of Columbia. Their resources must be limited to $12,510 for an individual or $25,010 for a married couple living together. Resources include such things as bank accounts, stocks, and bonds. They do not count houses and cars as resources; and their annual income must be limited to $16,245 for an individual or $21,855 for a married couple living together. Even if their annual income is higher, they still may be able to get some help.

Beginning Jan. 1, when Medicare beneficiaries apply for Extra Help, they also can start their application process for the Medicare Savings Programs -state programs that provide help with other Medicare costs. The state will contact the beneficiaries to help them apply for a Medicare Savings Program.

Those already receiving Extra Help do not need to reapply in 2010.

Call the Senior LinkAge Line to learn more about the Extra Help and to learn more about the Medicare Part D drug benefit at 800-333-2433.

This article is made possible with Older Americans Act dollars from the Land of the Dancing Sky Area Agency on Aging. Call the Senior LinkAge at 800-333-2433 to speak with an information specialist, or check out our website at is an online directory of services designed to help people in Minnesota find human services, information and referral, financial assistance, and other forms of help.