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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 www.socialsecurity.gov.

_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 www.ssa.gov/prescriptionhelp/.

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 www.healthassistancepartnership.org/site/PageServer?pagename=SHIPS.

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

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