War on Poverty Still Critical for Vulnerable Seniors
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War on Poverty Still Critical for Vulnerable Seniors


March 5, 2014

Media Contact
Jean Van Ryzin

23 million remain economically insecure and rely on key low-income programs

Washington, DC – The National Council on Aging (NCOA) today praised the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging for holding a hearing on gains in senior income security since President Lyndon Johnson declared War on Poverty in the 1960s—but emphasized that the job is far from over.

“Medicare and Social Security have brought millions of older Americans out of poverty,” said Howard Bedlin, NCOA Vice President for Public Policy & Advocacy. “Yet today, one in three older adults over age 60—more than 23 million seniors—still lives with economic insecurity.” 

These low-income seniors depend on critical programs to help them pay for growing out-of-pocket health care costs. Yet, one of these programs is in jeopardy in Congress, and others include unfair restrictions that make it impossible for struggling seniors to enroll.

The Medicare Qualified Individual (QI) Program will expire on March 31 unless Congress acts. QI pays Medicare Part B premiums for beneficiaries with incomes of $13,700-$15,500 per year. If it expires, these seniors could be forced to drop the Part B benefit and lose access to their doctors or pay over $1,200 in new, additional premiums.

“Without QI, a senior with just $14,000 a year in income would have only $9,000 left for all their other living expenses,” Bedlin said. “This could be a battle lost in the War on Poverty. Congress needs to make the QI program permanent this year as part of the permanent Medicare physician payment fix.”

QI is one of the Medicare Savings Programs (MSPs), which are designed to help low-income people with Medicare afford their premiums and cost-sharing. Yet these programs continue to include restrictions that bar some vulnerable seniors from enrolling.

Currently, people under age 65 are eligible for help with copayments and deductibles if their income is below 138% of the federal poverty level, and there is no asset test. People over age 65, however, are eligible only if their income is below 100% of poverty, and they must meet a strict asset test.

“This policy penalizes low-income seniors who did the right thing during their working years by creating a modest nest egg of savings,” Bedlin said. “It’s time for Congress to end this age discrimination and provide the same help with health costs for all low-income Americans, regardless of age.”

In addition to health costs, millions of seniors continue to struggle with rising food costs. Only 1 in 3 seniors who qualifies for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) actually receives this valuable benefit. A recent $8.6 billion cut to SNAP means even fewer vulnerable seniors will have access to this program that helps pay for nutritious food.

“Without these critical low-income programs, millions of vulnerable older adults will be forced to make difficult choices between buying groceries or filling prescriptions; putting food on the table or paying utility bills,” Bedlin said. “We urge Congress to protect and strengthen these vital benefits for older adults facing poverty.”


About NCOA  The National Council on Aging (NCOA) is the nation’s leading nonprofit service and advocacy organization representing older adults and the community organizations that serve them. Our goal is to improve the health, independence, and economic security of 10 million older adults by 2020. For more than 60 years, NCOA has been a trusted voice and innovative problem-solver helping seniors navigate the challenges of aging in America. We work with local and national partners to give older adults tools and information to stay healthy and secure, and we advocate for programs and policies to improve the lives of all seniors, especially the most vulnerable. For more information, please visit www.ncoa.org.

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