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Issue Brief
June 2014

Four Strategies for Improving Programs that Help Low-Income Medicare Beneficiaries with Health Care Costs

By:
Marc Steinberg

Medicare provides vital health insurance to more than 50 million seniors and people with disabilities, including many low-income beneficiaries. But it can be hard for beneficiaries with limited incomes to pay Medicare’s monthly premiums and other out-of-pocket health care costs (such as copayments and co-insurance).

These programs help beneficiaries with Medicare costs:

  • Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB) program
  • Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary (SLMB) program
  • Qualified Individual (QI) program
  • Part D low-income subsidy, which is also known as “Extra Help”

While these programs provide some relief to the low-income beneficiaries who enroll, they are inadequate both in terms of what they cover and in the number of people they reach.

The four strategies we examine for improving these programs can be implemented at either the federal or state level.

  • Increasing income eligibility standards
  • Modernizing asset limits
  • Aligning eligibility criteria across programs
  • Improving cost-sharing protections within existing programs