Web site helps seniors save millions in medical costs

By Marsha King
Seattle Times staff reporter

[excerpt]

Let's say you're 55 or older or have disabilities the groups served by www.BenefitsCheckUp.org  or maybe you have a parent in that age group. You log onto the Web site. Then you answer a 15- to 20-minute questionnaire about the beneficiary's income, assets, disabilities and medications. BenefitsCheckUp uses that information to screen adults for eligibility on 1,300 different programs federal, state and some local. That includes not only all kinds of discounts on prescription drugs, but food stamps and meal programs, low-income housing, property-tax deferrals and even volunteer opportunities. It produces an individualized report that describes each program, lists local contacts and provides forms to enroll.

BenefitsCheckUp was launched in phases over the past few years by the private, nonprofit National Council on the Aging with several other sponsors.

The Web site has been used the most by social-service agencies with low-income, older and disabled clients. Last year, those organizations helped 5,755 state residents get assistance through the Web site.

Over 30 percent were eligible for a Medicare drug-discount card, 24 percent for a tax credit and 21 percent for food stamps.

"It's a great tool," said Elaine Yeung with the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging in Seattle.

Consumer advocates as part of a massive public-education campaign to prepare for the 2006 launch of Medicare's new drug plans intend to direct people to BenefitsCheckUp as the preferred online source for screening and information.

The Web site will determine eligibility for subsidies on the new drug plans' deductibles, co-payments and premiums. It also will be updated especially for this state [Washington] to provide a comparison of Medicare's coming drug plans with other options, such as the Washington State Health Insurance pool.

And it will be seamlessly linked to Medicare's own Web site: www.Medicare.gov.

Marsha King: 206-464-2232 or mking@seattletimes.com