Administration begins new Part D enrollment push

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Federal officials have begun a new drive to enroll remaining eligible seniors in the Bush administration's Medicare prescription drug benefit program. Approximately 4 million did not enroll by the May 15 deadline, though late-enrollment penalties have been temporarily suspended for low-income beneficiaries.

The Social Security Administration will help power the new drive. It will send 500,000 applications to seniors age 79 and up and also will concentrate on those who live in low-income neighborhoods. It also will target people with disabilities, Hispanics and those who do not handle their own financial affairs, according to a USA Today report.

About 38.7 million of 42.5 million Medicare beneficiaries have the free drug coverage, according to Medicare officials.

The majority of current nursing home residents are dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid. Dual eligibles were automatically enrolled when the new benefit began Jan. 1. But rolling admissions for new and future residents could pose new challenges for providers. As many as 60,000 people become newly eligible for subsidized drug coverage each month, according to one association executive.

Seniors and people who are on Medicare because of disabilities must have incomes below about $15,000 and assets below $11,500 ($23,000 for couples), not including their homes, to qualify for the benefit.