February 6, 2019

Seniors' health expenses could drop under state budget

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Gov. Charlie Baker's $42.7 billion spending plan includes language expanding eligibility for Medicare Savings Programs.

Under a proposal included in Gov. Charlie Baker's fiscal 2020 budget, health expenses for seniors would stand to drop by $200 to 16 percent of their income, according to Massachusetts Senior Action Council executive director Carolyn Villers.

The council visited the State House last week to urge support for legislation that would further drive up savings for seniors, bringing expenses down to 4 percent of income.

Baker's $42.7 billion spending plan includes language expanding eligibility for Medicare Savings Programs, which use state and federal money to help eligible seniors pay for Medicare premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.

The governor is seeking to raise the income limit so that it would include people earning up to about $20,000, and to double the asset limit to $15,120. His plan would cost the state $10 million, allow for an additional $100 million in federal funding and make around 25,000 people newly eligible for the program.

Bills backed by the Senior Action Council, filed by Sen. Jason Lewis and Rep. Steven Ultrino, call for a broader eligibility expansion over three years, spending $30 million in state money and bringing in more than $200 million in federal prescription assistance, plus $150 million in federal assistance for Medicare costs, Villers said. She said the council's plan would help 70,000 seniors who otherwise might have to choose "between their prescriptions and their food."

Council Vice President Kathy Paul said Baker's proposal represents "the first step" of the council's plan, calling it a "milestone" that reflects years of hard work by advocates.

"Our work is not done," Paul said. "We must make sure that the House and Senate endorse this proposal and keep it in their budget. We celebrate that the relief of 40,000 seniors is reached, but we will not leave anyone behind."

Fourteen other states have already expanded Medicare Savings Program eligibility, Villers said.

Sen. Brendan Crighton told members of the council about one statistic that "threw me off" -- that Massachusetts is among the states with the highest percentage of economically insecure elders, landing behind Mississippi.

"I don't want us to be included with Mississippi on almost any policy in government, and certainly not this for our seniors," the Lynn Democrat said.

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