2004-12-30 / Seniors

Feds Come Through With $17 M More Heating Aid For Seniors

Some seniors may have gotten a surprise holiday present last week when the federal government announced that New York will receive nearly $17 million in additional Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) funding.

The word from President George W. Bush and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson was especially timely because of the cold spell which hit around Christmas Day. The HEAP funds, which help low-income families with their heating costs, will be especially necessary with a frigid winter already here.

Governor George Pataki issued a statement thanking the president for providing these additional funds “that will help our low-income citizens who depend on HEAP to keep their homes warm.”

Pataki said, “With energy prices for oil, natural gas and propane at very high levels, this additional funding will provide more assurance for those who need it most.

“This announcement comes days after we requested additional assistance and we will continue to work with the federal government to secure more heating assistance as we go forward. We will also continue to remind New Yorkers of the broad array of state and local programs that are available to provide information and assistance that will help them keep utility costs down and increase energy efficiency as we head into this winter season.”

For seniors who may not have applied yet for HEAP, call the city Department for the Aging at 1-212-442-1000; Those under the age threshold but who are still eligible for the benefit but haven’t applied for it can call the city information line at 311 and inquire.

FIGHT OVER THREATENED MEDICAID CUTS? There are serious concerns among the states’ governors that Bush may try to cut Medicaid benefits as part of his plan to trim the federal budget, which is trillions of dollars in a hole.

There has been no report of any such plan by the administration, but the governors are wary that when the budget slicing starts, a good chunk will be cut out of Medicaid benefits, half of which are paid for by the federal government, 25 percent by the states and 25 percent by the cities.

The governors are caught in the middle here because many local governments, such as New York City, have been badgering state governments to absorb more of the program’s costs.

The program, which provides healthcare services for low-income families, including many seniors, is already costing the federal and state governments $300 billion a year.

Critics of the high-cost program, as well as officials who are supporters of the concept of aiding the poor, see cuts coming because so much is going for Medicaid that governments’ abilities to provide proper levels of funding for other necessary programs, such as education, are being hurt.

But at the moment, the governors are trying to deal with the possible cuts in the federal share of the program.

One proposal to cut Medicaid would remove all seniors from coverage and place them under Medicare, which provides health care for seniors.

Some seniors have somehow landed on Medicaid although they rightfully belong on Medicare. For seniors who cannot afford to pay the Medicare premium, programs are available to assist in getting the funds for it.

MIXED SIGNALS ON DRUG IMPORTS: The Bush Administration released a report last week that looked into the feasibility of importing drugs from Canada and gave a mixed message on the controversial problem.

In the report to Congress, the Administration said some drugs could be imported, but wouldn’t save consumers much. Also, the report said, the costs to the federal government of making sure the imports were safe would be considerable. It also said imports could hurt the pharmaceutical industry’s ability to do the research necessary to develop new drugs.

The report doesn’t change the drug importation picture much. Advocates want imports legalized so lower-cost drugs can be brought in to help cash-strapped seniors. The Bush Administration has been blocking legal imports on grounds preventing fraudulent products from slipping through would be too costly.

Also, the drug industry doesn’t want imports because they would cut into drug companies’ huge profits.

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