New Benefits Enrollment Center helps low-income Medicare recipients access federal benefits
ASHEVILLE – Low-income Medicare recipients in North Carolina can call Legal Aid of North Carolina's new Benefits Enrollment Center at 1-877-579-7562 (toll-free) for free help enrolling in federal benefits programs that provide financial help with health care, prescription drugs, home energy bills and food costs.
"Many Medicare recipients in North Carolina are eligible for additional federal benefits and don't even know it," said Angeleigh Dorsey, director of Legal Aid's Senior Law Project, which operates the Benefits Enrollment Center.
"If you're on Medicare and need a little extra money for life's necessities, call us today. We can help you figure out what programs you're eligible for and guide you through the application process," she said. "The best part is, we're a nonprofit so all our help is completely free!"
To be considered low-income, a person must live at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty line, defined as earning about $18,000 a year or less for one person, $24,000 a year or less for two people, and $30,000 a year or less for four people.
The Benefits Enrollment Center staff determines eligibility by looking at a person's income, assets, rent or mortgage payments, utility payments, cost of health insurance premiums and other expenses.
"If you're worried about eligibility," Dorsey said, "don't be. Just give us a call and we'll work with you to figure it out."
Legal Aid's Benefits Enrollment Center can enroll eligible North Carolinians in five federal programs:
Medicare Savings Program. Waives the $104.90 monthly premium for Medicare Part B, which covers physicians' services, outpatient hospital services, certain home health services, durable medical equipment, and other items.
Medicare Part D Extra Help program. Provides full or partial subsidies and copay assistance for recipients of Medicare Part D prescription drug benefits.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Provides nutrition assistance to low-income individual and families.
Medicaid. Some low-income Medicare recipients may also qualify for Medicaid, which can decrease their out-of-pocket expenses for health care.
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Provides financial assistance with home energy costs.
Legal Aid's Benefits Enrollment Center launched in June with a grant from the National Council on Aging. The goal of the BEC is to enroll 1,100 seniors in benefits programs by May 2016. The BEC can help people across the state but is targeting outreach to nine counties in the west and southeast: Alexander, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Cleveland, Duplin, Gaston, Richmond, Robeson.
"We weighed a number of factors when selecting these counties," Dorsey said. "Number of low-income seniors who aren't enrolled in these benefits programs, percentage of people of color, proximity to Legal Aid field offices, etc. We also have good relationships with stakeholders in these counties."
In addition to running the toll-free helpline, Legal Aid staff working on the Benefits Enrollment Center hold enrollment and information events at senior centers, and providers of home meal delivery to reach those who are homebound.
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Legal Aid of North Carolina is a statewide, nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services in civil matters to low-income people in order to ensure equal access to justice and remove legal barriers to economic opportunity. Our Senior Law Project provides free civil legal help to North Carolinians age 60 or older.