March 11,2004

Grassley Praises Funding to Educate Seniors About New Medicare Benefits

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Committee on Finance, today praised the Bush administration for dedicating millions of dollars this year and next year for stateand local programs that counsel Medicare beneficiaries to help them understand and take advantageof new Medicare benefits.

“Congress just enacted the biggest improvements to Medicare in history,” Grassley said. “It’simportant that older Americans have ways to learn about the new benefits so they choose the rightoption for them. This increased funding will help to hire more staff so more seniors will have accessto Medicare experts.”

As Finance Committee chairman, Grassley was the Senate’s lead author of the Medicareimprovement and modernization legislation that is now law. The law gives the federal government$1 billion for fiscal years 2004 and 2005 to implement these landmark improvements. In January,Grassley and Sen. Max Baucus, ranking member, asked Health and Human Services SecretaryTommy Thompson to direct part of the $1 billion to State Health Insurance Assistance Programs,which offer cost-effective beneficiary education, counseling and outreach services throughout thenation.

Late Wednesday, Thompson announced that he will award $21.1 million this year andanother $31.7 million next year to these state and local programs. According to Thompson, thisyear’s funding represents a 69 percent increase above the fiscal year 2003 total, reflecting theincreased emphasis on one-on-one advice and counseling for Medicare beneficiaries provided by thestaff and volunteers at State Health Insurance Assistance Programs.

“I’ve been holding town meetings around Iowa to hear from Iowans about the new Medicarelaw,” Grassley said. “I’ve invited representatives of the State Health Insurance Assistance Programto help answer questions. These folks know the Medicare program inside and out, and their purposeis to help older Americans choose the right benefit option for them.”

State Health Insurance Assistance Programs are local organizations funded by the federalgovernment through State Units on Aging or state insurance departments in all 50 states, the Districtof Columbia, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico that provide individual help to seniors and peoplewith disabilities with health insurance questions and problems. More than 12,000 volunteers andpaid staff in nearly 1,200 local programs use their knowledge of Medicare and other local insuranceprograms and services to provide in-depth assistance to people with Medicare.