The Bush administration mailed the first of 20 million applications to people who might qualify for the new Medicare prescription drug benefit but critics said the form was so complex they expected less than five percent to respond, according to a report in The New York Times.
James Firman, president of the National Council on the Aging and chairman of a coalition of community groups working with Medicare officials, told the Times that low-income people would be confused or intimidated by parts of the new seven-page application form.
One section of the new form reportedly asks people to distinguish between the face value and the cash value of life insurance. The form asks, "Do you or your spouse (if married and living together) own life insurance policies with a total face value of $1,500 or more? If the answer for either you or your spouse is yes, how much money would you get if you turned in your insurance policies for cash right now?"
"Historically," Firman said, "the response rate to mailings like this among low-income people has been one or two percent."
Firman said, in the newspaper report, he believed that community groups working with the government could reach many of those eligible.
Mark Hinkle, a spokesman for the Social Security Administration told the Times his agency mailed out 2,050 applications and would send up to 20 million by late May. The mailings will coincide with a nationwide effort to inform people of the new drug benefit and the additional subsidies available to those with low incomes.
Mark McClellan, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told the newspaper he believed the application was "simpler than that used for any other means-tested program."
Drug coverage under the new Medicare prescription drug benefit becomes available on Jan. 1, 2006. The Congressional Budget Office and the Bush administration say that 14 million people, accounting for one-third of all Medicare beneficiaries, will be eligible for the low-income subsidies, which can reduce or eliminate their premiums, deductibles, co-payments and other costs. The administration predicts that 10.9 million of those eligible will receive the assistance. About 6 million of them -- those who are entitled to both Medicare and Medicaid -- can automatically get the extra help without completing the applications.