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Straight Talk for Seniors®: Federal Funding for Low-Income Benefits Outreach

On Sept. 30, funding authority expires for an important program that connects low-income Medicare beneficiaries with benefits to help them afford their health care costs, although the actual funds will still be available until next year.

Originally funded under the 2008 Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act (MIPPA), the funding is critical to getting eligible older adults and people with disabilities the help they need to pay for their prescription drugs and Medicare premiums and co-payments.

Those who are eligible typically have annual incomes below $18,090 and non-housing assets of less than $7,390. Most are on fixed incomes that fail to keep pace with rising costs. But millions are not receiving the benefits—often because they don’t know about them or how to enroll. For example:

  • Almost 1.8 million individuals eligible for the Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidy (LIS/Extra Help) are not enrolled. The program helps pay for prescription drug costs.
  • Less than half of eligible individuals are enrolled in a Medicare Savings Program, which helps pay their Medicare premiums and cost sharing.

Why outreach funding matters

Since 2008, MIPPA funding has helped state and community-based organizations nationwide significantly improve enrollment rates. With this funding, they have:

  • Assisted 2.1 million individuals in need.
  • Increased the number of low-income Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in the Medicare Savings Programs from 6.4 million to 8.5 million.

Funding is shared among State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIPs), Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs), Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRCs), and the National Center for Benefits Outreach and Enrollment (Center), which is managed by NCOA.

The Center provides technical assistance and offers competitive grants to local Benefits Enrollment Centers (BECs) to provide the most cost-effective, person-centered outreach and enrollment strategies and create seamless systems of benefits access in their communities. The Center currently supports 60 BECs serving 32 states, with grants of up to $100,000 per year.

How federal funding works

In years past, Congress has provided benefits outreach funding through one or two-year health “extender” packages. Most recently, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 included increased annual funding from $25 million to $37.5 million for FY16 and FY17. However, the current funding authority expires on Sept. 30 (actual funds will be available until Sept. 30, 2018).

This year, NCOA and other national organizations are urging Congress to make MIPPA outreach funding permanent—as previous bipartisan Senate bills have provided—and increase it to $50 million annually.

Last week, the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations (LCAO), which NCOA currently chairs, sent a letter to the House and Senate on extender priorities, including support for permanent MIPPA funding of $50 million per year. Permanent funding will provide the stability needed for local agencies to hire full-time staff and dedicate necessary resources.

Congress is now working on a bipartisan bill to extend wide variety of health provisions that expire at the end of the month. It’s not clear, however, what can pass before Oct. 1 because time is short and difficult questions remain about how to pay for the extensions. The programs may be extended until December, when a larger legislative package will come together.

NCOA has met with Congressional staff about funding for low-income benefits outreach, and it’s clear that most don’t know about MIPPA or understand why it’s needed. Please help educate your members of Congress on the importance of continued funding for this work.

Send an email today.

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Howard Bedlin

About Howard Bedlin

Howard Bedlin is NCOA's Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy. He is responsible for all of NCOA’s federal and state legislative advocacy efforts on issues and programs of concern to older adults, which include the Older Americans Act, Medicare, Medicaid, long-term care, income security, and community services programs.