7 Top Trends Affecting Benefits Programs for 2013
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7 Top Trends Affecting Benefits Programs for 2013

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December 18, 2013

Many key benefits programs witnessed changes in 2013—both good and bad. Here, we summarize the major developments, and how you can help your clients to maximize their benefits.

1. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) faces uncertain future

SNAP recipients saw a decrease in their monthly benefits beginning in November due to the expiration of stimulus funding. In addition, political wrangling over the Farm Bill has left the future of SNAP uncertain, with draft legislation in Congress proposing to significantly cut funding and limit access to the program.

On the plus side, older adults can still take advantage of several deductions for medical expenses and shelter that can help them maximize their benefit amounts. And NCOA has received a generous grant from the Walmart Foundation to provide grants to organizations and senior centers to help seniors enroll in SNAP. Learn how to apply.

2. Sequester + government shutdown = bad news for benefits

The across-the-board cuts known as the sequester have already cut $1.5 trillion in discretionary programs, including the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), Section 202 Housing for the Elderly, and services offered by the Older Americans Act. The 16-day federal government shutdown in October also resulted in employee furloughs and stalled progress on delivery of benefits.

However, progress has been made on several fronts: a new reauthorization proposal for the Older Americans Act has gained bipartisan support in the Senate, and on Dec. 18, Congress passed a bipartisan budget deal that will avert another shutdown, and relieve some sequester cuts.

3. Closing the gap on Medicare costs

Despite extensive coverage of a wide range of screenings and treatment services, people with Medicare still often have to pay significant out-of-pocket costs for their coverage. This is a burden especially for those with the lowest incomes. Yet two areas where the gaps are closing and people with Medicare are seeing more savings are on prescription drugs and outpatient mental health services.

This year, the over 3 million people who entered the Part D coverage gap saved $2.9 billion thanks to increasing discounts in the coverage gap before it eventually closes completely in 2020. Additional savings are projected in 2014.

In 2013, Part B paid 65% of outpatient mental health services, but that’s set to change on Jan. 1, when Medicare Part B will cover 80% of outpatient mental health services for beneficiaries, bringing reimbursements in line with other Part B services. 

4. Federal benefits go paperless

Earlier this year, anyone receiving federal benefits from Social Security, Veterans Affairs, or the Railroad Retirement Board was required to switch to electronic payments. Have a client who’s still getting paper checks? Help them to GoDirect.

5. MIPPA 3 continues strong outreach work of states

The American Taxpayer Relief Act, enacted in January, included another year of funding to SHIPs, AAAs, and ADRCs for outreach on Medicare benefits for low-income seniors and adults with disabilities. To date, MIPPA has helped more than half a million people with Medicare access nearly $2 billion in benefits. MIPPA 3 awards were made in the fall, and NCOA’s Center for Benefits Access continues to serve as the MIPPA Technical Resource Center. Read about MIPPA’s past and future work.

6. Same-sex married couples now eligible for some federal benefits

A landmark Supreme Court decision in June rendered sections of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. The ruling opened the door to allow married couples in states recognizing same-sex marriage access to over 1,000 tangible federal benefits, while married same-sex couples in states that do not recognize their union will also have access to some federal benefits. Learn more in the archive of our recent webinar.

7. A permanent fix for QI?

A last minute fiscal cliff deal on Jan. 1, 2013 extended the Qualified Individual (QI) program, one of the Medicare Savings Programs, for another year. Last week, the Senate Finance Committee met to discuss a permanent fix to Medicare physician payments, and their proposal included a provision to extend the QI program for five more years. There will be additional opportunities to make QI permanent in January. Find out more.

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