Medicare Beneficiaries and Their Assets: Implications for Low-Income Programs

This report, prepared by Marilyn Moon of The Urban Institute and Robert Friedland and Lee Shirey of Georgetown University's Center on an Aging Society, reviews the income and assets of the current Medicare population, provides an overview of asset tests used to determine eligibility for programs assisting low-income Medicare beneficiaries, and considers how alternative policy options would affect eligibility for these programs.

The authors find that beneficiaries with low incomes tend to have minimal assets. Eighty-five percent of all Medicare beneficiaries with incomes below the poverty level have less than $12,000 in assets and more than half have less than $1,500 in assets. Even moderate asset holdings can prevent beneficiaries from qualifying for low-income assistance, however, given the asset criteria often used by programs offering coverage to low-income Medicare beneficiaries. In considering options such as raising asset limits, eliminating them altogether, and redefining assets and how they are determined, the authors find that each of these approaches would allow significant numbers of additional low-income Medicare beneficiaries to qualify for assistance. While adding to the cost of public programs, these policy changes would clearly expand their capacity to reach their target populations.

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