Employment is down; health care costs are up. That combination puts millions of Americans in a bind. It drives families from employment rolls into government assistance. Health insurance is frequently one of those discretionary items too often cut from family budgets, or it becomes entirely unattainable in the event of a job loss. Fortunately, families receiving public assistance have access to a health care safety net.
Medicaid is a federally-subsidized, state-run program giving access to basic and catastrophic health services for the poor and indigent. Rolled out in 1965 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society Program, Medicaid helps individuals and families near or below the poverty level gain access to critical, emergency and preventive care. Eligibility requirements and specific programs vary by state. Special eligibility programs exist for pregnant women and women with young children. Contact your state's department of health and human services for information specific to where you live.
Children's Health Insurance Program
The Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, is a state-run, federally-subsidized and mandated health insurance program funded in conjunction with Medicaid. As with Medicaid, each state develops its own enrollment criteria. Generally, children of low-income families can enroll. This could mean valuable savings for a single parent. Even if not eligible for Medicaid, the single parent with children covered by CHIP can purchase health insurance for just herself, rather than paying high premiums for family coverage.
Medicare is a federal health insurance program. It offers basic medical care benefits to senior citizens and to certain other individuals with qualifying disabilities, such as end stage renal disease. Generally, you must be at least 65 years old to qualify for Medicare, or have a medical condition that qualifies for one of the exceptions to this rule. Part A, or basic hospitalization coverage, is free. The system automatically enrolls you when you begin receiving Social Security benefits after that age. Part B covers doctor visits, lab costs and durable medical equipment. It has a monthly premium, as does Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage) and Part D, the federal prescription drug program for seniors.
Medicare for Low Income Seniors
If you are a senior and on public assistance, or you meet the income guidelines, you might qualify for reduced Medicare premiums for Parts C and D. If you qualify for Medicaid under the criteria in your state, for example, you can qualify for reduced drug costs if you have assets and an income below a certain threshold. For more information, visit the Medicare program website (see Resources).