Massachusetts Seniors Converge on Beacon Hill to Urge Lawmakers to Expand Medicare Access

Seniors’ five-year grassroots campaign won provision in Gov. Baker’s budget to help 40,000 low-income seniors afford healthcare costs

Nearly 100 seniors from across the state descended on Beacon Hill this past week to press lawmakers to adopt Gov. Charlie Baker’s budget proposal to expand eligibility for the federal Medicare Savings Program, which would benefit 40,000 low-income seniors. Seniors arrived by cars, vans, and the MBTA from Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, and many other cities to use their voices and political clout to advance this proposal. The standing-room only crowd included Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, in addition to state representatives, state senators, and representatives from the Governor’s office.

Senior advocates then fanned out across the statehouse, meeting with lawmakers and their aides to urge them to include Gov. Baker’s measure in the final budget and to continue to build the bridge to affordable healthcare with HD1218 and SD741. It’s the culmination of five years and thousands of hours of grassroots actions in support of this urgent healthcare access measure.

“Five years ago, a group of determined Massachusetts Senior Action Council (MSAC) members met around a kitchen table to strategize how to get rid of the ‘healthcare cliff.’ Medicare is a strong foundation for healthcare, but it has high out-of-pocket costs. Many seniors face a crisis when they turn 65 and lose access to subsidized Connector Care, but make too much to be eligible for the federal Medicare Savings program,” Mass. Senior Action Council Executive Director Carolyn Villers said.

“Enacting this budget provision is the first step towards making sure all Massachusetts seniors can afford their healthcare costs. The members of Mass Senior Action will not rest until we have closed the gap to affordable healthcare for seniors. Our 3-year plan would benefit 70,000 seniors in total and bring in over $300 million in federal benefits.”

Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders also spoke to gathered seniors ahead of their canvassing and voiced her solidarity. “We’re talking the talk by walking the halls today. We’re giving elected officials the chance to do the right thing for older adults in Massachusetts,” Sudders said. She pledged her support for the measure throughout the legislative budget session.

This budget provision would have a tremendous impact on seniors like 70-year-old Cambridge resident John Robinson. The retired railroad worker would see his out-of-pocket health care costs drop to 16 percent of his monthly income, down from 26 percent. MSAC’s full proposal, further closing the eligibility gap between Connector Care and the Medicare Savings Program, would do much more. It would reduce his health care expenses to four percent of his income.

“Right now I rely on food pantries and church dinners to help me get by every month and I know others who can’t afford to fill their prescriptions,” John Robinson said. “I have to speak up to get our lawmakers to take action because it’s really a matter of life and death for many seniors.”

The eligibility expansion would mean that seniors whose income is about $20,000 or less would have access to this life-saving program. Currently seniors have to bring in less than $16,400 per year. All eligible seniors receive premium assistance and prescription drug coverage. The Medicare Savings Program currently covers the Medicare Part B Premium ($135.50/month) and automatically enrolls members in the federal Extra Help program (approximately $4,000 annually), which helps cover deductibles, medications and additional expenses.

“These are supposed to be our golden years, but we’re really struggling,” Kathy Paul, 73, of Lynn said. “This proposal will bring relief to thousands of seniors. They can stop worrying about how they will pay for medications every month, as well as health premiums. It’s time for Massachusetts to bridge the gap.”

Seniors plan to keep up the pressure on lawmakers throughout this legislative session.

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