In an effort to facilitate enrollment in the new Medicare Prescription Drug Program and help the more than 60,000 New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) seniors (65-years-old or over) stay informed about benefits and services that are available to them, NYCHA held its first-ever Senior Benefit & Entitlement Fair on October 6th at the Riverbank State Park in Upper Manhattan. More than 800 seniors from the five boroughs attended the fair to find what they are entitled to receive.
Today’s seniors face many daunting challenges on a daily basis: in addition to the need for affordable housing and healthcare, seniors must also find ways to pay for the ever-rising cost of prescription drugs.
NYCHA Chairman Tino Hernandez told the crowd, “Seniors comprise one-third of the heads of household at NYCHA. You’ve paid your dues. You deserve the best quality of life possible. That’s what this event is about: all the benefits that can help make your life better.”
The program began with “I Believe I Can Fly,” by the NYCHA Senior Chorus, after which NYCHA’s Department of Resident Support Services Director Richard Greene welcomed the crowd, introducing the dignitaries in attendance. Along with Chairman Hernandez and Vice-Chairman Earl Andrews, Jr., they included Assembly Member Keith L. Wright, Department for the Aging (DFTA) Commissioner Edwin Mendez-Santiago, Social Security Administration Deputy Regional Director Paul Doersam, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation Assistant Deputy Commissioner Mary Ellen Kris, and North River Community Environmental Review Board President and Chief Executive Officer Ann Rocker.
“Our goal is to provide you with the opportunity to enroll in many programs designed specifically for seniors here in NYCHA,” said Mr. Greene. Referring to the Medicare Prescription Drug Program, also known as Medicare Part D, Mr. Greene conceded, “There’s no question that the new program is complicated. We’re doing everything we can to provide the resources you need to make the right choices.”
DFTA Commissioner Edwin Mendez-Santiago thanked NYCHA for hosting the event and pointed out that DFTA runs over 100 Senior Centers in NYCHA facilities. “We have a mayor who is committed to keeping every one of our Senior Centers open,” said the Commissioner.
He then stressed the importance seniors play in each other’s lives. “People live longer in New York City than anywhere in the United States. We also live better because we care about each other more. Take information. Bring information back to your neighbors. We want to make sure that 1.3 million learn about Medicare Part D and sign up appropriately.”
The Social Security Administration’s Paul Doersam, a former resident of NYCHA’s General Grant Houses in Manhattan, explained his agency’s role in the new Medicare Program, emphasizing that many people can have the co-payment and deductible for the Medicare Prescription Drug Program waived through another program called “Extra Help.”
“Social Security takes applications [for Medicare and the Medicare Prescription Drug Program], processes applications and tells people when they are entitled to 'Extra Help.' We believe there are 1.2 million people in New York City who may be eligible for Extra Help. Note: If you receive Medicaid, you don’t have to apply for Extra Help, but get it automatically."
After the remarks, most seniors filed into the nearby Athletic Center where the resource tables were set up, while those from the boroughs of Staten Island and Manhattan remained behind for the first of three presentations on the Prescription Drug Program.
At the Athletic Center, seniors visited tables set up in six distinct zones. The first zone featured senior support agencies such as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and Eldercare, a fall prevention agency; the second zone was for screenings by Columbia University’s School of Dental and Oral Surgery and Lexington Hearing & Speech; the third zone was manned by government agencies such as the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Social Security Administration; the NYPD Housing Bureau Cadets helped seniors obtain Senior ID’s in the next zone, and they were accompanied by NYCHA’s Department of Social Services; the fifth station featured transportation and food benefits with representatives from Access-A-Ride and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority; and six different health insurance plans were represented in the sixth zone.
The Medicare Prescription Drug Program
All Medicare beneficiaries are eligible for the Medicare Prescription Drug Program. Anyone already enrolled in Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) and/or Medicare Part B (Medical/Physician Insurance) can enroll.
The Initial Open Enrollment Period begins November 15, 2005, and ends May 15, 2006. For Medicare beneficiaries who enroll by December 31, 2005, the Medicare prescription drug coverage will begin on January 1, 2006. For those who enroll later, coverage will begin the first day of the month following the month of enrollment. Seniors should make sure they join a Medicare prescription drug plan no later than May 15, 2006, however most Medicare beneficiaries will have to personally select a drug carrier beginning in mid-November. For more information, inquire at your nearest Senior Center or log onto www.medicare.gov.