When the last national census was taken in 2010, 48 percent of the population was classified as poor or low-income (earning less than 200 percent of the poverty level). Anyone who's ever tried to live on a limited income knows how difficult it can be to make ends meet when cost increases for essentials like healthcare, housing, food and energy outpace their earnings. This can be especially challenging for seniors living on a fixed income.
The good news is there are literally thousands of federal, state and private assistance programs designed to help seniors and others cover their basic needs. Your challenge might be finding ones for which you're eligible. Here are a few suggestions:
Search Engines. The nonprofit National Council on Aging offers BenefitsCheckUp, a free, confidential web-based service that helps seniors and their caregivers find financial assistance for healthcare (medical, dental, vision and medications), housing, food, utilities, in-home services and much more. After answering several questions, you're issued a personalized report describing programs and services for which you may be eligible, including links to their websites and applications. (AAPR provides a similar service called Benefits QuickLink.)
Low-cost healthcare. Several government-sponsored programs help pay for medical coverage, including:
Prescription drug assistance programs. Most pharmaceutical companies offer patient assistance programs (PAPs) that provide uninsured and low-income people access to prescription drugs they couldn't otherwise afford. Ask your doctor, pharmacist or health clinic for details. Other good resources include: Medicare's alphabetical list of drugs available through PAPs, with links to detailed eligibility information; Partnership for Prescription Assistance; RxAssist; and NeedyMeds.
In addition, as a result of the Affordable Care Act, Medicare Part D participants who reach the so-called doughnut hole coverage gap now receive a 50 percent discount on brand-name prescription drugs and a 14 percent discount on generics. (These discounts will gradually increase until 2020 when the doughnut hole will disappear altogether.) To learn more about Healthcare Reform, read my previous blog, What Healthcare Reform Means to You.
Tax advantages. The IRS tax code includes several benefits that target seniors (and often, other lower-income taxpayers), including:
Other government programs. Many government-sponsored benefits, grants and financial aid programs exist to help seniors, low-income families and others pay their bills, including:
Also, ask whether your water, garbage, telephone and cable/satellite TV companies offer discounts for seniors, low-income families or the disabled. Rules vary, but you'll likely be asked to provide proof of age, income or disability status in order to qualify.
And of course, don't forget to ask about senior discounts whenever you shop, travel or buy insurance -- 10 percent here and there can really add up. Just be aware that senior rates at airlines, hotels and car rental agencies are not always the cheapest available, so check their websites or ask a phone representative for the lowest available rate before booking the senior rate.
This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a legal, tax or financial adviser for specific information on how certain laws apply to you and about your individual financial situation.
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