Critics of 'Means Test'
About 28 million more beneficiaries won't be eligible for low-income benefits and will be asked to choose from several different insurance-company-administered drug plans by May 15, 2006. Seniors who sign up late will be forced to pay a penalty in the form of 1% of premiums for every month they are late, according to Medicare.
The government is also relying on a network of doctors' groups, consumer organizations, and faith-based groups to campaign among seniors for the benefit.
Robert M. Hayes, president of the Medicare Rights Center, warns that enrolling all of the 14 million low-income beneficiaries will be "a massive job."
Hayes points to food stamps, Medicaid, and other low-income benefit plans, which historically have reached only 35% to 50% of the eligible beneficiaries. He is critical of a test that requires low-income seniors to show that they have assets of less than $11,500 for individuals and $23,000 for couples in order to qualify for extra subsidies.
Such a 'means test' "historically is a very large barrier to people signing up. These are not the ways to up enrollment in a program," he tells WebMD.
All 42 million Medicare beneficiaries are due to receive "Medicare and You" pamphlets by mail in October in anticipation of Part D enrollment season staring a month later. Bush officials say they plan on spending $300 million in fiscal 2005 on outreach efforts to seniors between now and the end of September.