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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, December 17, 2004

Seniors scramble for drug credit

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

The only income Darlene DiCarlo has is from Social Security — $1,175 a month.


You don't qualify for the $600 drug credit if:

  • You are on Medicaid or any state-assisted program.
  • Your annual income is more than $14,445 as a single beneficiary or $19,386 as a married couple.
  • You have drug coverage through your health insurance plan.


Deadline is Dec. 31 for the $600 drug credit for seniors.

To apply:

  • Call: Sage PLUS at 586-7299 or (888) 875-9229, or Medicare at (800) 633-4227
  • Online: www.medicare.gov
  • If you are enrolled in HMSA's 65C Plus program, call 948-6000.
With that, the 82-year-old has to pay for rent at a Hawai'i Kai apartment and other living expenses.

And she needs three prescription drugs, the cost of which totals $134 a month.

"That takes away all my Medicare," DiCarlo said. "At the end of the year, I don't have anything. I'm getting down to the nitty-gritty."

She said she needs a new $600 drug credit offered by Medicare this year because she's struggling to make ends meet. She's even dipped into a trust fund her late husband set up for their son and grandchildren.

"I've had to get into that to pay for my medical bills and expenses," she said. "I keep taking it and I feel terrible."

But she hasn't been able to get help yet applying for the new benefit.

"It's been frustrating," said DiCarlo, who has been trying for days to call Medicare and Sage PLUS, a local office that offers health insurance counseling, for information on the new benefit. "It's not only difficult to get the benefits, but it's difficult to get information about these benefits."

Staffed by volunteers, Sage PLUS said the office has been getting more calls than it can handle as the Dec. 31 deadline for applying for the benefit approaches.

"Our phones have been ringing nonstop all day," said program specialist Pamela Cunningham. "The response has been incredible."

A majority of the 150 people who called Sage PLUS yesterday didn't qualify because their income was too high or they had drug coverage through their health insurance plan, said Cunningham.

Abigail Abraham of Nanakuli found out yesterday that she didn't qualify for the credit because her yearly income, when combined with her husband's, was above the $19,386 mark for married couples.

The 72-year-old retiree said she needs the extra cash to help pay for the seven costly prescriptions she has to take.

"That's why I tried to get this," Abraham said.

The drug credit is part of Medicare's drug discount card program launched this year, which offers discounts on costly prescription drugs to seniors.

In Hawai'i, the credit is available to single Medicare beneficiaries whose yearly income falls below $14,445 and to married couples whose income is $19,386 or less.

Eligible seniors get a $600 credit this year and another $600 next year. If you don't spend the $600 credit for this year, it rolls over, combining for a total of $1,200 toward prescription drugs.

Medicare estimates more than 33,000 Hawai'i residents may qualify for this drug credit, but most of those eligible have not signed up.

June Gonsalves has been trying to find out if she and her husband qualify for the $600 drug credit, which would help them with their monthly expenses.

The couple collect about $17,280 a year from Social Security, which qualifies them.

And they could use it. She has four prescriptions, including one that costs $15 for each pill. Her husband has three prescriptions.

In addition to drugs, they have to pay for rent and utilities for a two-bedroom apartment in Mililani. And what little money they had left over from an inheritance is going toward caskets — the only funeral expense they haven't covered yet.

"When we buy that, that's really going to wipe us out," said the 72-year-old retired preschool aide. "We struggle to make ends meet."

Gonsalves hopes they can qualify for the credit.

"If I can get the drug cheaper ... it will be worth it," she said. "This is what happens when you live too long."

Reach Catherine E. Toth at 535-8103 or ctoth@honoluluadvertiser.com.