Elmer Gardiner is right on the money when he says helping more seniors with their $100/month Medicare Part B premiums would make life a lot easier for many Rhode Island seniors living mostly on fixed incomes (Warwick Beacon, September 5, 2012)
In these difficult economic times, carefully laid retirement savings have eroded and far too many seniors struggle to make ends meet. The fact is that the majority of persons age 65 and over in the state are far from being wealthy. Indeed, 40 percent of Rhode Island households headed by persons age 65 are considered to be low income as their incomes are less than $25,000 (US Census American Community Survey 2010 estimates). The economic situation is especially daunting for older women in the state who are more likely to be poor, to live alone, and have lower Social Security benefits and fewer other resources to rely on such as pensions or accumulated savings. A study I researched for a report, Older Women in Rhode Island: A Portrait, published in 2011 by the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island found that an older couple in Rhode Island living in their own home without a mortgage would need $33,048 just to cover basic living expenses to include housing costs, food, health care, transportation and miscellaneous expenses. A single older women living in a private rented apartment would need $24,682, only about half of the average Rhode Island women’s Social Security benefit.
Research conducted this year by the national organization, Wider Opportunities for Women, found a significant gap between income and basic economic needs for many elders on a state-by-state basis. In Rhode Island, the median income for a single older retiree was estimated to meet only 70 percent of their $24,408 basic living expenses, a gap of some $7,200. The facts clearly show that many older Rhode Islanders are living on the edge and emphasize the value of our safety net programs such as SNAP (formerly Food Stamps), and rental subsidies in filling the gap for older Rhode Islanders.
The Medicare Savings Programs, funded by the federal and state governments, subsidize Medicare premiums and, in some cases, other cost-sharing for low-income seniors. The federal government sets a floor for the income and asset or resource limits; however, states can exceed those floors. The current federal income limit for the full Medicare savings program is the federal poverty level plus $20 ($951/month for an individual and $1,281/month for a couple. An individual cannot have more than $6,940 in resources and a couple, $10,410. A person’s home, one car, burial plot up to $1,500 and household items are excluded in determining resources.
Raising the income and asset limits for the Rhode Island Medicare Premium Savings programs such as our sister New England states of Connecticut and Maine have done would do much to relieve the economic insecurity of a significant number of older Rhode Islanders. I would urge our state legislators to consider such a policy in the upcoming 2013 general assembly.
For information on Medicare Savings Programs, go to www.medicareinteractive.org. To view “Older Women in Rhode Island: A Portrait”, go to www.senioragendari.org/grow.pdf. To see nationwide rankings on economic security for older Americans, visit www.wowonline.org/DoingWithout.asp.
Ms. Maigret, a former state legislator and Director of Elderly Affairs, is an aging and long term care services policy consultant, and serves as the policy consultant for the Senior Agenda Coalition of RI.