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Social Security offers prescription drug help

Beginning in January 2006, Medicare will offer prescription drug plans to beneficiaries.

But now is the time to see if you qualify for some extra financial help in paying for your monthly premiums, annual deductibles and prescription co-payments under the new program.

Applications are in the mail

From late May through mid-August, Social Security is mailing letters to nearly 19 million people who are potentially eligible for this extra help.

The letter includes an application and a return-addressed, postage-paid envelope.

If you receive a letter in the mail, please read the information carefully. The letter will explain the prescription drug program, and tell you how to apply for the extra help. Those who qualify for the extra help could save an average of $2,100 per year.

No letter? Apply anyway!

Even if you do not get an application in the mail, you still might be

eligible for help with prescription drug costs. You can see if you might qualify

and apply online at Social Security's website,

. You also can contact Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) for more information or to apply over the telephone.

Income guidelines

To qualify for the extra help, a person or married couple living together must have limited income and resources.

You can qualify for this help as an individual if your total annual income is below $14,355 and you resources are valued below $10,000.

The limits for a married couple living together are higher: $19,245 in combined annual income and $20,000 in resources. These resources can be slightly higher an additional $1,500 per person if you will be using some of your money for burial expenses.

Special cases

Even if your income is higher, you still may be able to get some help if, for example, you or your spouse supports other family members who live with you, if you have earnings from work or if you live in Alaska or Hawaii.

There are also certain exclusions from both income and resources. For example, your home and cars are not counted as resources. So if you think you might be eligible, you should apply.

Automatic qualifiers

It is important to note that some beneficiaries will automatically qualify for the extra financial help. Anyone who has both Medicare and Medicaid, or Medicare and Supplemental Security Income, or anyone whose state pays his or her Medicare premiums, will not have to complete an eligibility application.

But even if you automatically qualify for extra help, you still need to enroll in a Medicare-approved prescription drug plan to obtain both coverage and the extra help.

For more info

For more information about getting extra help with Medicare prescription drug costs, call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY

1-800-325-0778), or visit

. To learn more about the Medicare prescription drug plans, call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) or visit .