Program offers relief to seniors

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 28, 2004

JACKSON – Low-income seniors in North Carolina struggling with rising costs of prescription drugs now have an opportunity to get the help they need, but the deadline for assistance is fast approaching.

Seniors desiring to take advantage of that opportunity will have until December 31 to put their name in the hat for the state-sponsored program, known as N.C. Senior Care, which will provide up to $2,400 in financial help for medicine between now and 2006.

The program allows anyone age 65 or older with an annual income of no more than $23,275 or less, including individuals single widowed or divorced or couples whose incomes do not exceed $31,225 to qualify provided they do not receive drug coverage through Medicaid or through a former employer.

&uot;This is a wonderful program. People are signing up left and right,&uot; said Northampton County Director of the Office on Aging Debby Gay.

The state held various sign-up drives on Tuesday to promote enrollment before the cut off date and to answer any questions seniors might have when filling out the applications.

&uot;Seniors in need of help with prescription drugs should look seriously at this program,&uot; said Linda Blackburn, who serves as the Director for the Hertford County Office on Aging.

&uot;They should take advantage of all that is available to them and be sure to ask questions when they don’t understand. No one should sign a document they do not understand.&uot;

Blackburn and Gay both stressed the willingness of the staff at their respective offices to answer any questions seniors might have when applying for the program.

&uot;We want seniors to know that we are available to answer their questions,&uot; said Gay. &uot;If someone needs help filling out an application, we want to be there to help them.&uot;

Prior to the September partnership between the state and federal Medicare discount drug card program, the only people who qualified for assistance were those with chronic lung disease, diabetes, or heart and blood pressure problems.

&uot;The benefits are a lot more than what used to exist,&uot; said Gay. &uot;It’s important that people become aware that those restrictions have been lifted. &uot;I would hate to see someone who would qualify for the program miss out on an opportunity like this.&uot;

She added, &uot;Many people think we are located at the Senior Center in the J.W. Faison Building, but we are actually located beside the courthouse in Jackson at 100 West Jefferson Street, so if they want to come out to get an application or speak with us about questions they might have, we will be here to help them.&uot;

According to an informational pamphlet, since these changes have been made, those who did not previously qualify for assistance with prescription drugs through Medicare may now be eligible under the new program including seniors with health coverage through a Medicare + Choice (M + C), those who have a Medigap policy (supplemental Medicare insurance) or those with policies through the Veteran’s Administration (VA) who may still qualify for the program.

&uot;Any Senior Care member already enrolled as of August 31, 2004 is still enrolled with the new program,&uot; said Gay. &uot;Also, if anyone has applied and it has been two weeks and they are in need of medication, they can have their pharmacist call the toll free number to verify their coverage.&uot;

Although applications are on the rise, there are still approximately 300,000 seniors who may qualify for the program.

Seniors wishing to submit for a Senior Care card can obtain an application at their local Office for Aging or print one at and mail it to: North Carolina Senior Care P.O. Box 10068 Raleigh, N.C. 27605-5068 or contact the Senior Care member service number toll free at 1-866-226-1388.