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 CMS Highlights Medicare’s Efforts to Reduce Poverty for Seniors

In a blog released on Jan. 31, officials with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) outlined how the agency is working to alleviate poverty in the seniors population and address the racial and socioeconomic disparities among beneficiaries.  

Some one in four Medicare beneficiaries has less than $15,000 in total savings, and almost one in 12 has no savings or is in debt, the blog said.

Cara James, PhD, director, CMS Office of Minority Health and co-chair of the CMS Rural Health Council, and Tim Engelhardt, director, Federal Coordinated Health Care Office, authored the blog.

“There remain wide disparities among racial and ethnic groups: Median per capita savings among white Medicare beneficiaries is more than six times greater than among either black or Hispanic beneficiaries,” James and Engelhardt said. “These statistics remind us of the unique role that Medicare plays in protecting older adults from potentially catastrophic health care costs.”

Even with Medicare coverage, some beneficiaries experience significant out-of-pocket costs. And, among Medicare beneficiaries with incomes below the federal poverty level (around $12,000 per year for a single person), 38.7 percent spend more than one-fifth of their annual income on premiums and out-of-pocket medical expenses.

As part of the CMS push to protect seniors from high costs, the blog authors said a priority with the agency is to lower prescription drug costs. Notably, in November, CMS expanded policies to help beneficiaries save on coinsurance for drugs administered in certain hospitals.

CMS also recently issued proposals to ensure Medicare Advantage and Part D plans have more ability to negotiate lower drug prices, lowering costs for beneficiaries.

In other areas, the blog authors said individuals can reduce their risk of high out-of-pocket costs by making use of free preventive services and shopping for value among Medicare’s options for health plans and drug coverage.

CMS also recently launched the “What’s Covered” app, part of its eMedicare initiative focused on modernizing Medicare and supplying patients with information they need to get the best value from their Medicare coverage. 

“‘What’s Covered’ lets people with original Medicare, caregivers, and others quickly see whether Medicare covers a specific medical item or service,” the blog said. “Consumers can now use their mobile device to more easily get accurate, consistent coverage information in the doctor’s office, hospital, or anywhere else they use their mobile device.” 

Lastly, the CMS officials said the agency continues to work on innovations like new value-based payment models to further reduce senior poverty across the country. These include the Medicare Savings Programs and efforts in the bundled payment areas, the blog said.

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