Medicare, low-income subsidies and retiree benefits

Well, we made it through another chaotic year and I wish you all a new and happier year to come. There is some good news to report, although it is not earth-shaking.

Social Security is giving all its beneficiaries a 1.5 percent COLA (cost of living adjustment) increase for 2014.

And the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax will be increased to $117,000, up from last year’s $113,000.

Just as a note to myself, if there was no limit on the amount of earnings that could be taxed, there would be no need for the fat cats in Washington D.C. to keep screaming about how Social Security was running out of funds.

Check your status for “Extra Help”

If you have been on a Low Income Extra Help plan for your prescriptions, you may not know that at the new year you might lose your benefit and will have to reapply. Most people who do lose their Extra Help might no longer qualify for Supplemental Security Income or Medicaid.

One of the best things to do every year is to go to the Internet website and screen yourself for Extra Help and any other program you might be eligible for. It is very easy to do but might cost you some time because you have to input all your income and expenses. But it is good to find out all the programs and how to apply for them.

Low Income Subsidy (LIS) and Medicare Savings Plan

If you are a “dual eligible,” meaning that you have both Medicare and Medicaid, and you meet the state eligibility requirements – that is, 100 percent of the Alaska 2013 Poverty level annual income – you will not have to apply for the Low Income Subsidy (LIS) and will receive it automatically. Recipients have no monthly premium, no annual deductible and no co-pay or co-insurance for drugs on their Medicare Part B drug plan. The same is true if enrolled in an “MSP”, or Medicare Savings Plan (also known as the Medicare Buy-In)

Remember these income limits will probably be changed in 2014 and therefore if you think you might be eligible for some help, you should always apply for a program and let the eligibility technician tell you if you are eligible.

Heating assistance

This is also the time to apply for the heating subsidy if you are a renter or own your own home and are income eligible. If you need an application please call and we will be glad to send an application to you.

State retiree benefits

For those of you who are retired state employees, you will be getting information from the state retirement office this month on Aetna, the new insurance company for AlaskaCare. There will be a new mail-in company for your medicine supplies and there will be a list of the drug stores that you can use here in Alaska. You will also get a new ID card.

Rita Hatch volunteers for the Older Persons Action Group Medicare Information program. Call her at 276-1059 or email her at