Kathy Paul of Lynn, a member of Mass Senior Action Council lobbied for more access to and affordable Medicare at the State House (Jim Wilson)
Local Government and Politics, News

Lynn seniors lobby at State House for better access to Medicare, more affordable health care

LYNN — Lynn seniors lobbied at the State House on Tuesday in support of a budget proposal from the governor that, if approved by the Legislature, would make more low-income seniors eligible for the Medicare Savings Program, giving them a break on how much they pay for prescriptions, premiums and other health care costs.

Massachusetts Senior Action Council members boarded a bus in Lynn on Tuesday to head to Boston to lobby for what the group is calling a potentially life-saving bill that would reduce Medicare costs for more than 40,000 low-income seniors.

The assistance would provide support for an additional 25,000 seniors, which includes making them eligible for subsidies, and more help for 15,000 elders currently with the program.

Under the plan, seniors who earn 130 to 165 percent of the federal poverty level, or approximately $16,000 to $20,000 annually, would be eligible for the Medicare Savings Program. Currently, seniors are eligible who earn 100 to 135 percent of the federal poverty level, or approximately $12,100 to $16,400.

Pam Edwards, a Lynn resident and community organizer for Mass Senior Action, said her group has been trying to inform and educate the Legislature for five years on what people 65 and older are paying for Medicare.

Six out of 10 seniors cannot make ends meet in Massachusetts, and a majority of that burden is due to health care costs, second only to housing. The proposed plan would put a minimum of $200 back in those eligible seniors' pockets each month, according to Edwards.

The proposed legislation, which would potentially reduce seniors' out-of-pocket Medicare expenses by thousands a year, is sponsored by several members of the Lynn delegation, including state Sen. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn).

"It is unthinkable that in a state that prides itself on health care access, 1 in 3 low-income seniors spend more than 20 percent of their income on health care premiums," Crighton said. "This straightforward legislation would expand eligibility for Medicare Savings Programs and greatly improve health care access for seniors across Massachusetts."

Kathy Paul, a 71-year-old Lynn resident and Mass Senior Action member, said the expansion wouldn't affect her personally, but it affects many of her neighbors.

She lives at Wall Plaza, a federal senior/disabled housing program that provides subsidized housing for low-income seniors and disabled residents. Nearby are two other senior complexes, St. Stephen's Tower and St. Theresa House.

"It's not the golden years anymore when you become a senior," Paul said. "It's a heartbreaking time of our life. People who are on medication and have to lose money over medications — they're deciding whether they should buy groceries or get their medication or do without. The rent kills you. Everything else kills you and seniors shouldn't be that way."

Paul said the plan will help seniors better care for themselves, with being able to better afford medications, and in turn having more access to healthier food.

The state would pay $7 million annually and $4 million for fiscal year 2020 under the budget proposal, which would generate more than $100 million to help pay for Medicare premiums, prescription co-pays and medical subsidies.

According to the Gov. Charlie Baker administration, a 79-year-old with $17,000 in social security income annually could see a drop in annual out-of-pocket health care costs from approximately $6,000 to $600, or from 36 percent to 3 percent of their income.

"This is only the first step," Edwards said about the governor's budget proposal. "We have to continue to bridge that gap for people at 200 percent of the poverty line. We are the ones out in the communities hearing stories about seniors struggling."

Over three years, the bill, if passed, would expand program eligibility to seniors at 200 percent of the federal poverty level, according to Crighton.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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