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House Bill Makes Permanent Medicare Premium Assistance for Low-Income Beneficiaries

The compromise legislation that House Republican and Democratic leaders unveiled today to permanently fix Medicare’s flawed physician payment formula and extend funding and current policy for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) through 2017 has another important feature — it would also make permanent the Qualifying Individuals (QI) program, which helps low-income Medicare beneficiaries pay their premiums and is otherwise slated to expire at the end of March.

QI is one of the Medicare Savings Programs (MSPs) through which Medicaid helps low-income Medicare beneficiaries pay their Medicare premiums and/or other cost-sharing charges.  QI covers the annual Medicare Part B premiums for beneficiaries with incomes between 120 percent and 135 percent of the poverty line (roughly $14,100-$19,100 for singles and $15,900-$21,500 for couples).  The program helps more than half a million near-poor seniors and people with disabilities pay their premiums.

Policymakers periodically need to extend QI — unlike the other MSPs, which are permanent features of Medicaid — and it’s once again scheduled to expire.  In finally making QI permanent, the House legislation would ensure that QI beneficiaries can continue to receive benefits, which are worth about $1,260 in 2015, over the long run.  Moreover, because people enrolled in QI are automatically enrolled in the Medicare drug benefit’s Low-Income Subsidy, which helps low-income beneficiaries with their premiums and cost-sharing for their drug coverage, they’d be assured of continuing to receive that assistance as well.