CHN: Premium Assistance for Low-Income Seniors Awaits President’s Signature
Legislation to assist low-income seniors with their Medicare Part B premiums made its way quietly to the President’s desk this fall. S. 3560, introduced by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and ranking member Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), would increase funding for Medicare’s Qualifying Individuals (QI) program by $45 million.
QI provides payment of Medicare Part B monthly premiums for seniors and people with disabilities with incomes between 120 and 135 percent of the federal poverty line. Congress established the program in 1997 but it only appropriated a limited amount of funds to each state to pay for the program. Earlier this year Congress enacted a Medicare law (see HNR Report) that included an extension of the program through December 2009 and authorized $400 million in spending for the benefit in 2008. S. 3560 would increase QI spending to $445 million, bringing much needed help for seniors living near the poverty level. CQ reports that without assistance, Medicare Part B premiums, which stand at $96.40 per month in 2008 and 2009, would consume about 10 percent of the monthly income of low-income seniors.
In addition to increasing QI funding, the bill also includes a provision to expand education activities under the Medicaid Integrity Program and incentives for some drug manufacturers to get FDA approval for their antibiotics. S. 3560 would be paid for by requiring states to participate in a federal computer system used to determine eligibility for Medicaid.
The bill passed the Senate by Unanimous Consent on September 25. Two days later the House approved the bill by voice vote and sent it to the White House. The President is expected to sign the bill, though at the time of writing he had not yet done so.