October 29-4, 2014

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Low-income seniors can get help with Medicare costs

Many seniors spend a good share of their budget on health care. If you qualify for assistance, there is help with the costs of the Part B premium and co-pays for doctor visits; and Part D prescription coverage costs.

To qualify, your income cannot be greater than $17,500 a year for an individual and $23,600 a year for a couple.

Most programs also look at how much you have in assets (bank accounts, retirement, etc.), although the value of your home and car usually don’t count toward asset limits. In 2014, the asset limit is about $7,000 for an individual and $11,000 for a couple.

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Medicare coverage choices explained

Medicare health coverage is fairly comprehensive. But if you need a lot of care, Medicare can leave you with significant out-of-pocket costs. That’s why most people have some kind of supplemental insurance to help cover the costs that Medicare doesn’t.

Choosing a supplemental plan that makes sense for you is not always easy. Here are some tips that will help.

What are the types of supplemental coverage?

About a third of people with Medicare have supplemental insurance from a former employer. If you are lucky enough to have this type of coverage, it is probably your best option. Be careful if you ever decide to drop it – you may not be able to get it back.

People with low incomes may qualify for their state’s Medicaid program (and other related programs) that cover Medicare premiums and prescription drug costs.

If you don’t fall into these categories, you may want to consider buying either a private Medicare supplement plan (often called “Medigap”) or a Medicare Advantage plan.

Both options have advantages and disadvantages, and you should do careful research before selecting one or deciding to change your current coverage.

What are Medigap plans? 
Medigap plans work with original Medicare and pay costs that are left over after Medicare has paid what it covers. Depending on the plan, they pay for some amount of Medicare’s deductibles and co-insurance. They do not usually offer additional services, so they will not pay for an item or service that Medicare does not cover. For example, they do not cover prescription drugs, so most people with original Medicare and a Medigap plan also buy a Part D plan.

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