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Who's eligible, how to apply for new drug benefit

WASHINGTON—On May 27, the Social Security Administration will begin mailing out 20 million applications for the Medicare prescription drug benefit's low-income drug subsidy. The letters will go to Medicare's lower-income elderly recipients and younger disabled recipients. In addition, Medicare will send out nearly 10 million notices to other beneficiaries who already qualify for the low-income subsidy and need not apply for it.

_WHO'S ELIGIBLE: If your individual annual income is less than $14,355 and your personal assets don't exceed $11,500, you may qualify. Married couples who live together may qualify if their income is $19,245 or less and their assets don't exceed $23,000. These amounts may be higher for people who: pay at least half the cost of supporting other relatives in the household; live in Alaska or Hawaii; are employed. The working blind and disabled have additional income exclusions.

_WHAT ASSETS COUNT TOWARD INCOME: Belongings considered personal assets include real estate (but not your primary residence); bank accounts such as checking, savings and certificates of deposit; stocks; bonds, including U.S. Savings bonds; IRAs and mutual funds; and cash at home and elsewhere.

_WHAT ASSETS DON'T COUNT TOWARD INCOME: Your primary residence; your vehicle(s); household goods and personal possessions; resources not easily converted to cash, such as farm machinery, jewelry and livestock; federal income tax refunds; individual life insurance policies with a combined face value of $1,500 or less for an individual or $3,000 for a couple.

_WHO GETS WHAT: Depending on your income, you could receive coverage that includes: a $50 deductible or none at all; a sliding-scale monthly premium that averages $18 per month or none at all; co-pays of $2 for generic drugs and $5 for other drugs.

_HOW DO I APPLY: Wait for an application letter from the Social Security Administration. The letters will be mailed out over a 12-week period beginning May 27. Contact your local Social Security office or your local Medicaid office for an application. Beginning July 1, you can also apply online at

_HELP WITH APPLICATION: Contact your local Social Security office or call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) For a sample application and a worksheet to help fill out the application, go to

Your area State Health Insurance Assistance Program can also help you fill out the application. For an online list of state assistance programs and their phone numbers, go to


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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