Following Four-Year Campaign by Mass. Senior Action Council, Expanded Health Care Access for Low-income Seniors Appears in Baker Budget

Seniors will canvass State House on Tuesday, January 29 pushing legislature to adopt hard-won measure in final budget


BOSTON, MA – When Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s version of the state budget is released this week, advocates will have achieved an important first step towards bringing expanded health care to low-income seniors   a step that has been five years in the making.

On the heels of a relentless, “marathon-like” campaign that has included hundreds of hours of education and advocacy by low-income seniors on Beacon Hill, all organized by the 
Mass. Senior Action Council, the Baker administration announced at midnight on Friday evening that the reforms sought by the statewide senior advocacy group would be included in his budget.

Now, senior activists will turn their eyes towards the legislature, with a full court press slated to ensure the Mass. House of Representatives and Mass. State Senate do their part in upholding the Medicare Savings Program eligibility expansion.

Seniors will canvass the offices of elected leaders on Beacon Hill next Tuesday, January 29, by which time the full details of the Governor’s budget are expected to be released.

“We’re so close to winning relief for thousands of seniors, something we’ve spent five years to make happen,” said Edna Pruce, 84, of Mattapan. “We’ll fill the State House with our blue shirts again and again until these potentially life-saving reforms are implemented. Our voices, our votes, and our health care access ought to matter to every lawmaker in that building. We’re very proud that our campaign has led the Governor to take action and we are calling on the legislature to do the same.”

Mass. Senior Action’s Executive Director Carolyn Villers released the following statement following the Governor’s midnight announcement.

“After five years and thousands of hours of grassroots advocacy, the Massachusetts Senior Action Council has achieved key reforms to the Medicare Savings Program in Governor Baker’s version state budget. Those reforms will expand health care access to low-income seniors and will reduce the ‘healthcare cliff’ that hurts individuals when they reach 65 years old. Our proposal, first filed by legislative allies in 2015, will help 40,000 seniors avoid making hard choices between medicine and other necessities. 

This first step will mean seniors like 70-year-old John Robinson, a retired railroad worker, would see his out-of-pocket health care costs drop to 16 percent of his income, down from 26 percent of his monthly income. MSAC’s full proposal will reduce his healthcare expenses to 4 percent of his income, just as Connector Care does for those under 65. This is a crucial economic justice issue for low-income seniors.

This measure is an important first step towards reducing the excessive and disproportionate health care cost burden on our low-income seniors. We look forward to working with the Governor and the legislature to ensure this key budget measure to improve the lives of seniors is included in the final budget.”


Background:

The Medicare Savings Program provides valuable premium assistance and prescription coverage to low-income seniors drowning in healthcare expenses. It can reduce out-of-pocket costs for seniors by more than $4,000 per year. The federal threshold for eligibility is 135 percent of the federal poverty level. This is in contrast to Connector Care, which assists individuals under 65 living at 300 percent of the federal poverty level. However, states have the opportunity to adjust those eligibility levels and so far, 14 states have chosen to expand access to this program to more low-income seniors.  

Over the past four years, hundreds of seniors have delivered thousands of postcards to the Governor’s Office. Massachusetts Senior Action Council members including Edna Pruce, John Robinson, Carrie Haymon, and Anne Goldstein have testified at committee hearings, and have repeatedly met with leaders on Beacon Hill.


Key Facts:

 

·   In Massachusetts, 60% of elders living alone  40% of elder couples  do not have the income to meet basic needs. 

·   Nationally, Massachusetts is among the states with the greatest percentage of economically insecure elders, second only to Mississippi. 

·   The Medicare Savings Program currently covers Medicare Part B Premium ($135.50/month) and automatically enrolls members in the federal Extra Help program (approximately $4,000 annually), which helps covers deductibles, medications, and additional expenses. 

 

Expanding eligibility of Medicare Savings Programs has been found to: 

 

·  Reduce administrative expenses. Eliminating asset limits significantly reduces state administrative expenses. 

·   Leverage additional federal funds and benefits: Expanding eligibility enables the Commonwealth to shift individuals who are currently receiving assistance through the state funded programs into programs that are fully federally funded or matched at 50%. 

·   Streamline the application process: Eliminating the asset test would also allow for a streamlined application, thus reducing the barriers for eligible individuals. States without asset limits have reduced their applications to 2-4 pages compared to the 28 page application Massachusetts maintains. 

·   Eliminate the healthcare cliff: Aligning MSP eligibility limits with Connector Care levels (for individuals under 65) effectively eliminates the “healthcare cliff” that many low-income individuals experience when they turn 65.

 

Next Steps:

Seniors from across the Commonwealth will come together again
 on Tuesday, January 29 to lobby legislators to include the reforms above in the final budget. Seniors will launch their advocacy day with a speak out event at the State House.

WHEN: Tuesday, January 29, 2019 at 10:30 AM 

WHERE: Massachusetts State House, Room 428 

WHY: To fight to safeguard and expand critical systems for Massachusetts seniors 

About Massachusetts Senior Action Council 

Massachusetts Senior Action Council (MSAC) is a statewide, grassroots, senior-led organization that empowers its members to use their own voices to address key public policy and community issues that affect their health and well-being. Now in its fourth decade of organizing, Mass. Senior Action is an effective, grassroots activist group, led by seniors fighting for social justice. It is the acknowledged “go to” organization in Massachusetts for developing intergenerational social change strategies to safeguard and strengthen the systems that all community members need to rely on for economic and health security. 

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