U.S. allows more to enroll without fear of late penalty

About 500,000 more people are eligible for help, officials said.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Federal officials extended a policy Tuesday that will allow low-income Medicare participants to enroll in the program's drug benefit throughout 2007 without paying a late-enrollment penalty.
About 9.1 million people get extra help in paying for their medicine through a low-income subsidy. Medicare officials say they have identified about 500,000 more people they think are eligible for extra help. Officials want to help them work through the application process and get signed up in a plan without fear of a penalty fee for missing the enrollment cutoff.
"This is our most difficult population to reach," said Leslie V. Norwalk, acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. "By continuing to remove the fear of a late fee for those who may not be able to pay, we are taking a positive step aimed at broader coverage for everyone."
Difficult to reach
James Firman, president and CEO of the National Council on Aging, said that the rollout of government programs over the years, from food stamps to Medicaid, shows that it takes time for people to learn about a program and seek to participate.
"Even after many years, enrollment in most public programs remains low," Firman said. "More time is needed to find and enroll this difficult-to-reach population. This welcome news will make it easier for local organizations all over the country to find and persuade more people to sign up for this valuable benefit."
Those who qualify for extra help must have yearly incomes below 14,700 for a single person and 19,800 for married couples living together. They also must have assets below 11,700 for an individual or 23,410 for couples. Assets such as a home, car and most personal possessions do not count against the limit.
Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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