Hotline helps seniors navigate Medicare drug plan

With all the confusion surrounding enrollment of Medi-Cal “dual beneficiaries” in the new Medicare drug plan, thousands of Californians are still unaware that they too are eligible for deeply discounted membership.

These are Medicare enrollees whose incomes and/or savings make them not quite eligible for Medi-Cal, but are low enough to qualify for Part D “extra help.”

Through the May 15, 2006 enrollment deadline, staff and volunteers at the Senior Legal Hotline can help callers learn whether they qualify for the subsidy and can submit an application for them to the Social Security administration.

Individuals with liquid assets less than $11,500 ($23,000 for couples), and income of less than $1,245 a month ($1,670 for couples) are eligible. But not all income and assets count, so anyone who thinks he or she might qualify is encouraged to apply.

The Senior Legal Hotline is a Sacramento-based, free statewide service for anyone over 60, under the auspices of Legal Services of Northern California, a nonprofit agency. Hotline staff provide advice to seniors on any legal issue, regardless of income, and they are able to answer questions about the new Medicare drug plan.

The hotline “is especially interested in making sure that people with limited income take advantage of the ‘extra help’ Medicare is offering for prescription coverage,” said David L. Mandel, the hotline’s supervising attorney.

The hotline does not advise clients on which of the many insurance plans is best for them. For help choosing a plan, Medicare members should contact their local HICAP program by calling (800) 434-0222, or speak with their pharmacist.

For the legal hotline, Californians over 60 can call (916) 551-2140 locally and (800) 222-1753 statewide. Hours are 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and until 7 p.m. on Thursdays. Information is also available and questions can be submitted by email from the hotline’s Web site, A phone appointment is set following each email query.