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Sen. Gu introduces Medicaid legislation

Sen. Victoria Gu has introduced legislation increasing the income eligibility threshold for seniors to be eligible for Medicaid. The bill aims to help seniors pay for medical needs that Medicare does not cover.

“So many seniors in our community are struggling to get by, and medical bills are a big part of that,” said Lee Eastbourne, Executive Director of the Jonnycake Center of Westerly. “It’s really sad to see folks who worked their whole lives unable to afford to go to the dentist or get the medications they need in their golden years.”

Currently, most Rhode Island adults are eligible for Medicaid if they earn up to 138% of the federal poverty line (FPL). Rhode Islanders 65 or older, however, lose eligibility if they earn more than 100% FPL ($13,590 for an individual, $18,310 for a family of two). That leaves many lower-income seniors on the hook for expensive medical bills they have little ability to pay.

“I talk to so many seniors who have worked their whole lives and now struggle with medical costs,” Senator Gu (D-Dist. 38, Charlestown, Westerly, South Kingstown) said. “Seniors should never be in a position where they have to choose between prescription drugs and other essentials like groceries.”

While most seniors can obtain Medicare coverage starting at age 65, there are significant costs Medicare does not cover. Seniors who purchase Medicare Part B are eligible to buy supplemental plans or “Medigap” coverage, but these plans are cost-prohibitive for many. And without them, seniors are on the hook for thousands of dollars of deductibles, copays, and coinsurance if they need basic care. In addition, some services, such as dental, vision and long-term care, aren’t covered by Medicare at all, though they are covered by Medicaid in Rhode Island. This means that some low-income seniors on Medicaid lose important aspects of their coverage once they turn 65.

Senator Gu’s bill would allow seniors earning up to 138% of FPL to remain on Medicaid. The bill has 16 cosponsors in the Senate. A companion bill (2023 H-5097) has been introduced by Rep. David Morales (D-Dist. 7, Providence) in the House.

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