Posts Tagged ‘QMB’

Medicare Savings Programs: QMB, SLMB, QI, QDWI and Extra Help

FEBRUARY 9, 2015 VOLUME 22 NUMBER 6

Health care programs for the elderly, the poor and the disabled can be complicated and confusing. We frequently find that clients are unclear about the differences — in eligibility and in coverage — between Medicare and Medicaid, for instance. Add in the fact that Arizona calls its Medicaid program AHCCCS (the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System) but also ALTCS (the Arizona Long Term Care System) for some parts of the program, and the confusion begins to climb. Let us try to confuse things just a little bit more before (we hope) introducing some clarity.

First, the key distinctions between the two biggest government health care programs:

  • Medicare is a federal program, with very little state involvement (other than what we’ll be detailing in a moment). Medicaid is a joint federal-state program, administered by the individual states but funded mostly by the federal government.
  • Medicare beneficiaries are over age 65 OR they are receiving Social Security Disability Insurance payments. In other words, it is intended to cover the elderly and the disabled. Medicaid beneficiaries, on the other hand, may or may not be elderly or disabled — but they must be poor (with the state’s definition of “poor” quite variable).
  • Medicare covers (to a greater or lesser extent) inpatient hospital care, outpatient doctors’ visits and medications. Medicaid covers all medical expenses, including long-term care costs (an item that Medicare covers to a very limited extent).
  • Assets and income are irrelevant to Medicare coverage (except, of course, that if you are able to work you can’t be “disabled” in order to qualify before age 65). Medicaid pays close attention to income (whether earned from wages or received from investments, by gifts or otherwise) and assets (though there are differences state-to-state).
  • Medicare beneficiaries frequently have to pay co-payments (a share of the cost of a doctor’s visit, for instance), deductibles (the first $XX of a year’s medical costs, with XX being highly variable) and premiums (a flat amount for Medicare Part B coverage, for instance). Other than fairly nominal copayments, Medicaid beneficiaries usually do not have to pay any significant share of their medical costs; once eligibility is established, Medicaid picks up the entire cost.

Obviously, a person over age 65 might also have limited resources and income. A person with a disability might, as well. And a Medicare beneficiary might need medical care not covered by the program — like nursing care, for instance. There are five little-known programs available to help people who qualify for Medicare but need help with their premiums, deductibles or co-payments:

  • The Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB) Program. The most generous of the four is the QMB program. It pays Medicare Part A and Part B premiums, and all co-payments and deductibles. QMB recipients also automatically qualify for “extra help” with their Medicare Part D premiums. In order to qualify, the applicant must have income of less than the federal poverty level (in 2015, that figure for a single person living in the continental U.S. is $11,770/year, or $981/month — for a married couple it is $15,930/year or $1,328/month) plus $20. In other words, a single person with income of less than $1,001/month will qualify. In addition, in many states (not including Arizona, which does not have an asset limitation for QMB benefits) the QMB applicant must have assets of less than $7,280 (for a single person) or $10,930 (for a married couple). Not counted among the assets in states which impose an asset limitation: the applicant’s home, car, household contents and a few other items (they use the same exclusions applied to the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program).
  • The Special Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary (SLMB) Program. SLMB applicants can have up to 120% of the federal poverty income figures (plus the $20 that is disregarded — in other words, up to $1,197/month for a single person or $1,613 for a married couple), but are held to the same asset levels as those in the QMB program. Upon qualifying, the SLMB applicant will have Medicare Part B premiums paid — that will amount to a $104.90 monthly benefit for most Medicare recipients. SLMB beneficiaries also get “extra help” with their Part D premiums.
  • Qualifying Individuals (QI). A small group of people who do not qualify for any other Medicaid program might get help with their Medicare Part B premiums, if their income is between the $1,197 limit for a single person under SLMB and $1,345 (representing 135% of the federal poverty level, plus that ubiquitous $20). A married couple may have up to $1,813/month. As with QMB and SLMB, if you qualify for QI you also automatically get “extra help” with your Part D premiums.
  • Qualified Disabled and Working Individuals (QDWI). This one requires a little more explanation. For someone who once received Social Security Disability payments but returned to work, QDWI can pay the Medicare Part A premium (that’s $426/month in 2015). Income limits are up to 200% of the federal poverty guidelines (plus that $20), or $1,982 for a single person or $2,675 for a married couple. The most important thing about QDWI, though, is how few people will qualify — Arizona’s AHCCCS program notes that almost every QDWI recipient would also be eligible for the much more generous “Freedom to Work” program.
  • “Extra Help.” Programs that help pay co-payments and deductibles for Medicare’s Part D (drug) coverage go under the friendly name “extra help.” Any QMB, SLMB, QI, or SSI recipient will also get “extra help.” In some cases the program might reduce co-payment amounts but not eliminate them.

These programs can be bewilderingly complex, but they mean real benefits to recipients. Eligibility or the amount of benefit may also change year-to-year, as the beneficiary’s income goes up or down.

Medicare Changes Will Include Prescription Drug Coverage

DECEMBER 1, 2003 VOLUME 11, NUMBER 22

With the U.S. Senate’s approval of sweeping new Medicare provisions the public discussion has focused on whether the changes will be good for the program, its beneficiaries and the nation as a whole. Much controversy has also centered on the politics of the changes—including whether Republicans or Democrats won or lost, whether drug and insurance companies benefited at the expense of seniors, and whether senior advocacy groups sold out their members for temporary political gain. Not enough attention has been given to the actual provisions of the new law and the many questions raised by its enactment.

Under the new Medicare law, “Part D” coverage will be the primary payor for prescription drugs for seniors and the disabled, but the new law does much more than just adopt a new drug benefit. We answer many of the questions about the prescription drug benefit here, but in a companion issue of his newsletter Elder Law Fax, our friend and colleague Tim Takacs, a Hendersonville, Tennessee, elder law attorney, answers questions about the non-drug related provisions in the new law.

Q: What benefits will be available before Medicare’s full prescription drug program begins in 2006?

A: Starting sometime early in 2004, Medicare recipients will be offered a discount drug card costing $30. The card should entitle them to receive discounts of as much as 15% to 25% on drug costs. Low-income Medicare recipients will pay nothing for the drug discount card, and will receive $600 credit toward the cost of their drugs—though they will have to pay a co-payment of 5% to 10% of each prescription. The drug card program will end when the full prescription drug benefit takes effect in 2006.

Q: Will Medicare beneficiaries automatically receive the new drug benefit when it becomes available in 2006?

A: Apparently not. What is being called Medicare “Part D” will require enrollment and a monthly premium, currently set at $35 (but subject to changes before the 2006 effective date). This payment will be in addition to the Part B premium ($66.60 beginning next month). Medicare recipients with incomes below about $12,000 (or, for married couples, about $16,000) will pay no premiums for Part D.

Q: Once a beneficiary signs up for Part D, what drug savings should he or she expect?

A: Part D beneficiaries will still pay the first $250 of prescription medications out of their own pockets each year. The beneficiary will pay 25% of the next $2,000 of drug costs, and the entire cost of drugs between that level and $5,100.

Q: What does this mean for a real-life beneficiary’s drug benefit?

A: To take one example, a beneficiary with $500 in monthly drug costs today will pay about $335 per month under the new plan—if the premiums do not increase and the cost of drugs remains fairly stable. A beneficiary with current drug expenses of $50 per month will actually pay a little more than $60 per month under the new plan—but will be insured against catastrophic medication costs for the slight increase in payments. Neither of those examples will apply, incidentally, to poorer Medicare recipients, who will pay less for their drugs. Calculating the actual cost of drugs for a given beneficiary can be difficult; the Kaiser Family Foundation has prepared an internet page to give individuals a better idea of their own savings (or costs) under the Part D coverage.

Q: Are there other limitations on Part D coverage?

A: Yes, there are several other ways in which the drug benefit is limited. For example, after reaching the $5100 level in total drug costs, the participant will still have a co-payment for additional drugs of 5% of the drug costs.

Q: Will private insurance plans pay for the uncovered portion of drug costs?

A: Yes and no. Anyone who already has a “Medigap” (supplemental Medicare) policy that provides a drug benefit can continue to receive that benefit–provided that they choose to opt out of the new Medicare drug benefit program. No new Medigap policies with drug coverage can be sold, and no other private insurers will be permitted to sell policies that cover the deductibles and co-payments in the Medicare drug program.

Q: Will low-income seniors and disabled Medicare beneficiaries receive any additional benefits after 2006?

A: Yes. In addition to the waiver of premiums described earlier, there are also reduced co-payments for poorer participants. They will pay $1 to $2 (depending on income levels) for generic and $3 to $5 for brand name and “non-preferred” drugs. The “donut hole” (the uncovered portion of drugs costing between $2,250 and $5,100 each year) does not exist for poorer beneficiaries. Existing Medicaid coverage for drugs, however, will end—except for benzodiazepines and some other drugs that will not be covered by Medicare’s Part D program.

Q: Who will actually provide the Part D drug coverage—Medicare or private insurers?

A: The new law encourages individual insurance companies to enter the marketplace and provide coverage options under government supervision but without direct government management. In areas where no insurance programs are offered, however, Medicare will provide better subsidies to what the new law calls “fallback” insurance plans. The goal is to make sure that every Medicare beneficiary has at least two choices of drug coverage available. Incidentally, no “fallback” plan is permitted to offer drug coverage for the entire country.

Q: What effect will the new drug benefit have on state budgets?

A: The states are now paying a significant portion of drug costs for poorer Medicare beneficiaries who simultaneously qualify for Medicaid coverage—although the federal government does pay about half of Medicaid costs in most states. States will see some savings as those costs are shifted to Medicare, but the law requires the states to pay most of those savings back to Medicare.

Q: How will eligibility be determined for Medicare’s new needs-based benefits?

A: Medicare has never had a financial eligibility test before, though the little-known QMB and SLMB programs have provided premium assistance for poorer Medicare beneficiaries. The new law provides several additional benefits for Medicare recipients with low income and limited assets. In addition, the Medicare Part B premium will for the first time be increased for wealthier participants. State governments will be responsible for determining eligibility and enrolling low-income, low-asset beneficiaries in the new subsidized programs—probably utilizing the same eligibility staffs now employed to make Medicaid determinations.

There is much more to be considered in the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003. Some of the changes include provisions to reduce the cost of care in rural areas, a rollback of planned cuts in doctors’ reimbursement rates and an expansion of options available for health care coverage for younger citizens. For answers to questions about some of those other provisions, visit colleague Tim Takacs’ companion explanation in his weekly newsletter, Elder Law Fax.

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