By Amelia Luna with the Legal Aid Society
Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee provides legal advice and representation on civil legal issues for seniors in 48 Middle Tennessee counties. Recently, many seniors have contacted our offices because they have received notices from TennCare or Social Security stating they will stop getting help paying for Medicare. Many seniors do not understand what has happened because there has been no change in their circumstances.
TennCare, Tennessee's Medicaid agency, administers the Medicare Savings Programs (MSP), which help eligible seniors, and adults with disabilities, pay their Medicare Part B premiums and sometimes their Medicare copay and deductible expenses as well.
For the first time in several years, TennCare has begun to review whether a senior is still eligible for these programs. TennCare sends seniors a renewal packet, which has 17 pages of instructions and questions. If seniors do not complete the packet and send it back with any documents needed, they can lose their MSP assistance even though they are still eligible. Many seniors have told us they need help completing these packets. Although the packet says they can call a phone number for help, seniors, and our office staff, have experienced delays of over one hour before their call is answered. Other seniors have told us they never received a packet at all but their MSP assistance has been cut off anyway. Others have been told that they have not completed the packet correctly or have not provided all required documents.
If TennCare does not receive a completed packet with requisite documents, they notify Social Security that the person is no longer eligible for MSP. TennCare stops paying for the senior's Medicare Part B premium. The premium is $134.00 per month for most people. Social Security begins taking the premium out of a senior's Social Security benefits. For example, if someone enrolled in MSP used to get $800.00 in Social Security each month, they would only get $666.00 when the MSP is terminated. Because it takes time for Social Security to process the change, Social Security often withholds not only the premium for the current month but also the premium for several prior months. Some seniors who have contacted us have had as much as $400.00 withheld from their monthly Social Security check. This kind of reduction in a senior's Social Security benefits can be devastating because it leaves the senior unable to meet basic expenses such as rent, utilities and food.
We have eight offices throughout Middle Tennessee who can help seniors and adults with disabilities with this problem. They can call us at 1-800-238-1443. We can help seniors fill out the renewal packets and, if necessary, appeal the TennCare decision that they are no longer eligible for MSP help. We can also advise seniors who are not currently getting help paying for Medicare whether they are eligible for the Medicare Savings Programs.
Amelia Luna is an attorney with Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands. Legal Aid Society is Tennessee's largest non-profit law firm and serves 48 counties across Middle Tennessee and the Cumberland Plateau. Legal Aid Society takes a comprehensive approach to providing high quality, free civil legal services and community education to those facing the loss of the basic necessities of life. Learn more at www.las.org.