When seniors need financial assistance

Published: Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 10:33 AM.

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 low 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:

The nonprofit National Council on Aging offers BenefitsCheckUp (www.benefitscheckup.org), a free, confidential web-based service that helps seniors and their caregivers find financial assistance for healthcare, 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.

Several government-sponsored programs help people with limited income and resources pay for medical coverage, including Medicaid and Medicare. For a good round-up of these programs, go to www.medicare.gov and click on "Get Financial Help."

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 (www.medicare.gov/pap/index.asp); Partnership for Prescription Assistance (www.pparx.org); RxAssist (www.rxassist.org); and NeedyMeds (www.needymeds.com).

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.)

The IRS tax code includes several benefits that target seniors (and often, other lower-income taxpayers), including:



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