Kaiser Health News, AARP, and the National Council on Aging have all recently noted examples of how America’s older adults are leaving money on the table by not claiming financial assistance they are entitled to. This help is available to pay for things such as Medicare premiums, prescription drugs, taxes, food purchases, and more.
For instance, Kaiser estimates as many as 14 million adults over age 60 qualify for aid from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps) but have not signed up for it. The AARP Public Policy Institute estimates just over 70% of qualifying seniors have not signed up for SNAP help. Also, notes Kaiser, more than 3 million aged 65 or older could be enrolled in Medicare Savings Programs (MSP), but they currently are not. MSPs help pay Medicare Part B premiums and other cost sharing. And finally, about a third or more of Medicare-eligible seniors are missing out on help from Medicare Part D subsidies, which help with premiums and cost-sharing for prescription drugs. AARP states it is working closely with community organizations in selected states that help older adults apply for MSP programs and low-income subsidies for Medicare Part D drug plans. It plans to expand this effort to approximately half the states in 2023.
(Note: For extensive details on MSPs, see article titled “Medical Savings Programs: Help Is Available for Paying Premiums” under the Practical Advice tab on this AgeWise website. As that article indicates, information on Medicare Savings Programs specifically for Coloradans is available at https://hcpf.colorado.gov. On this state-managed website, choose “Explore Programs,” then “Programs for Adults,” and scroll down to the listings of Medicare Savings Programs. Telephone contacts for the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing of Colorado are 800-221-3943 or 303-866-3513.) You can find additional sources of assistance on our website as well under the Provider Directory tab.
Amount of help going unused can be substantial
Just how much help is available but not being used? It can be substantial, particularly for low-income seniors, though the help is not limited only to them. As one example, if an older adult qualifies for MSP that covers the cost of Medicare’s Part B premium, at this year’s premium of $170 that assistance would be worth $2,040 annually. Low-income subsidies for Part D prescription drug plans, also known as Extra Help, can be worth over $5,000 annually, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA). Plus, SSA says more seniors will qualify for these kinds of benefits by 2024, when the income thresholds are adjusted. Seniors living alone can receive an average of more than $100 per month in nutrition assistance, while AARP estimates at least 3 million adults over age 50 with low income could receive more than $200 per month.
(Note: To get “Extra Help” with Medicare Prescription Drug plan costs, you must complete and submit an application. Medicare will review your application and send you a letter to let you know if you qualify for Extra Help. If you need help completing the application, you may call Social Security toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 or make contact with other sources of help on our website at: “Aging Advocacy and Resources” and “Finance, Legal and Insurance” under the Provider Directory tab.
Many states, Colorado included, offer homeowners a break on real estate taxes (often referred to as the “homestead exemption”) based on their age and factors such as how long they have lived in their current home. In Colorado, this tax break must be requested through your county assessor/treasurer—it is not automatic. Clearly, there are eligible older Coloradans who are NOT capturing this benefit. This
exemption is available to Colorado’s senior citizens, surviving spouses of senior citizens, and disabled veterans. For those who qualify, 50 percent of the first $200,000 in the actual value of their primary residence is exempted from property taxation. To be eligible, the applicant must be age 65 or older or a surviving spouse of a senior who previously qualified for the exemption. And applicants must have owned and occupied the property as their primary residence for 10 or more years.
Seniors and/or surviving spouses who qualify for the partial property tax exemption must submit an application to their county assessors between January 1st and July 15th of the year you qualify. Each county assessor has a different application. Look for your contact information for your county assessor here.
How and where to get help
The chief customer officer at the National Council on Aging, an advocacy group for older Americans, says benefits are going unused because seniors don’t know about them, find the application process too difficult (or not worth their time), or are simply hesitant to ask for help. Some eligible beneficiaries may believe available benefits would be too small to bother with, although the above information proves that perception can often be wrong.
There are a number of ways to learn more about available assistance and how to access it.
A good place to start is with your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA). These agencies assist older adults by performing benefits assessments directly or by referring you to other organizations that can do the evaluations. Several Colorado AAAs can be linked to from our AgeWise website. Click on “Aging Advocacy and Resources” under the Provider Directory tab. The benefits assessments will identify which federal, state, and local programs can assist you with needs such as food, housing, transportation, health care, utility costs, and other essentials.
The Kaiser Foundation’s Program on Medicare Policy also suggests people contact their State Health Insurance Counseling and Assistance Program (SHIP). Colorado’s SHIP can be found at https://doi.colorado.gov/insurance-products/health-insurance/senior-health-care-medicare. The description there says SHIP “helps Medicare enrollees navigate the Medicare system and provides free, unbiased and individualized information.” Some AAA’s in Colorado provide SHIP services as well. And, again, there are other sources of help through both for-profits and non-profits operating in Colorado as referenced earlier.
Another alternative is to use the Eldercare Locator, a service of the federal Administration on Aging (eldercare.acl.gov). The AoA can also be contacted by phone at 800-677-1116. Still one more option is to visit BenefitsCheckUp.org, a service operated by the National Council of Aging. Phone contact for this service is 800-794-6559.
For Medicare specifics, we also recommend viewing our AgeWise webinar titled “Medicare: What’s Current, What’s New, and Avoiding Medicare Fraud” found under the Practical Advice tab on this website.
Sandy Markwood, chief executive officer of USAging, a national organization that represents Area Agencies on Aging, emphasizes that older adults should not wait for an emergency or crisis to surface before seeking assistance available to them. “It’s a much better idea to be prepared,” she says, and she recommends getting whatever guidance you need so you can “put all your options on the table.”