Medicare cuts have been a huge focus in the news lately. With all the talk of healthcare reform, it can be a confusing topic to try to muddle through. However, as you can probably guess, healthcare is a key topic for the senior community. One important thing to note is not only are senior services at risk on a national scale, but seniors right here in Illinois are feeling the pinch of budget cuts as well. This is especially true for those who are living on a fixed income (social security pay). Here are some ways that senior services have been affected here in Illinois.

Cuts to SPAP (State Prescription Assistance Plan) – Illinois Cares Rx is Illinois’ SPAP, created to help low-income seniors and persons with disabilities on Medicare with the part D prescription drug costs. Without this plan, a senior could be charged up to $1,710 in out-of-pocket prescription drug costs due to a coverage gap inherent in Medicare part D plans. However, due to budget concerns effective September 1st, the governor cut this program in half. By lowering the income limits for the program there are now 43,000 people who were kicked off of the plan and who are now responsible for that $1,710 the state once took care of. The rebate program that the state offered to those who didn’t qualify for the full assistance was also cut. The income limits to qualify for this program now are $21,780 for a single person and $29,420 for a married couple.

Circuit Breaker – Most seniors or adults with disabilities may not know the name Illinois Cares Rx, but they will all know Circuit Breaker! The Circuit Breaker program is a state funded program that provides grant checks to low-income seniors who live in the state. It also gives seniors a $75 discount of their license plate fee. The grant check you receive is based on 2 things; one is your income the other is how much you paid in property tax, rent, or shelter care. This year however, the state’s budget simply did not have enough money to pay for these checks. They fixed the problem by reworking the qualifications so that only half of those previously receiving Circuit Breaker funds are still eligible. In order to qualify you must fill out a circuit breaker form (IL-1363), have an income of $27,610 for a single household (the income amount increases the more people in your household). Circuit breaker forms can be found online and you can also visit your local or regional senior center for help as well.

Seniors Ride Free – This program was recently in the news because the program that was started by former governor Blagojevich has ended. Originally this program was intended to allow anyone over the age of 65 to ride free on the CTA, Metra, and Pace lines. But now (effective September 1st) this program will only benefit low-income seniors. Seniors who are interested in receiving the bus pass must follow the same income limits as the seniors ride free pass, you must have paid property tax, mobile home tax, or rent at a place where the owners have paid property tax. You apply for this benefit when you fill out your circuit breaker form.

Although these cuts may seem minor to us, they could have a huge impact on the senior community here in Illinois. A recent report by Senator Bernard Sanders talks about how there are millions of seniors who are in danger of going hungry, or who are going hungry because they simply can’t afford food. Another study done by Feeding America shows that there are about 1.2 million senior households nationwide who are not food secure (when all people at all times have both physical and economic access to sufficient food to meet their dietary needs for a productive and healthy life) With this said it’s easy to see how even minor cuts can have a major impact, especially on our seniors who are already living below the poverty line.

Chicago Cares works with a lot of independent senior facilities where the residents are at or below the poverty line. We provide meals, social interaction, and health based programming for these residents as a way to enrich their lives and supplement services provided to them by their buildings. Trying to meet these needs is why a lot of our bingo prizes are everyday household items that the residents may need but often can’t afford. You can make a big difference in the lives of those facing budget cuts by signing up for one of our senior programs.

Today’s post is from Senior Program Coordinator, Rosie Drumgoole