5 On Your Side

Federal program helps seniors pay for prescriptions

Posted April 16, 2009 6:07 p.m. EDT
Updated April 16, 2009 6:29 p.m. EDT

— Prescription medications are lifesavers for many. But they are costly – especially for senior citizens who tend to need more of them.

Robert Webb takes five different kinds of medicine. His prescription medicines cost nearly $740 a month; yet he pays only $30. That's because of a federal prescription drug program for senior citizens called Extra Help.

“If you are eligible, you may be able to purchase a prescription drug plan at no cost,” said Carla Obiol, of North Carolina's Seniors Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP).

Obiol says some 60,000 North Carolinians qualify for Extra Help. It's based on income and assets.

For an individual, you can make up to $1,300 per month and have up to $12,000 in assets. For a married couple, the caps extend to $1,800 and $25,000.

Obiol wants to get the word out because many people who don't qualify for other programs do qualify for this program.

Even if you don't qualify for Extra Help, SHIIP provides insurance counseling for anyone eligible for Medicare.

“There are several hundreds of Medicare products on the market today which leads to confusion. People want to know, 'Well how do I pick the plan that's best for me?'  – whether it's hospital coverage, medical or now prescription drug coverage,” Obiol said.

Webb found out about Extra Help by calling SHIIP. He says without the program, he could not afford his medications.

“I don't have that kind of money,” Webb said.

SHIIP can be reached at 800-443-9354. A representative can give you more information about the Extra Help program and walk you through the application process.