Extra Help Medicare Review

A program to help pay for with Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan costs

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Extra Help Medicare SSA

 Extra Help Medicare SSA

Our Take

Extra Help is a federal program that helps lower-income Medicare members pay for costs associated with Medicare Prescription Drug Plans. It’s not Medicare insurance, but financial assistance for people who have a Prescription Drug Plan and need help to pay for that coverage. If your income and assets don’t exceed the threshold, this program is a great way to get help paying for prescription drug costs.

  • Pros and Cons
  • Key Takeaways
  • Company Overview
Pros and Cons
Pros
  • Helps pay Medicare prescription drug coverage costs

  • Savings can be significant—approximately $5,000 per year

  • Some people automatically qualify

Cons
  • Must meet income and asset limits

  • Can’t combine with Medicare Advantage plans

  • Online application isn’t available 24/7

Key Takeaways
  • Extra Help helps lower-income people pay for Medicare Prescription Drug Plan premiums, deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance. 
  • To qualify, you must meet income and asset limits, which change every year.
  • You must have a Prescription Drug Plan to take advantage of Extra Help subsidies.
  • Extra Help is not Medicare insurance.
Company Overview

Extra Help isn’t a Medicare insurance company but is instead a federal program that helps lower-income Medicare members pay prescription drug costs, including prescription drug premiums, deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance. You must meet income and asset limits to qualify. The program is administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Social Security Administration, but you apply for it through Social Security. You automatically qualify for Extra Help if you qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid, belong to a Medicare Savings Program to get help paying for your Medicare Part B premiums, or qualify for Medicare and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). You must enroll in a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan—and cannot be in a Medicare Advantage Plan—to take advantage of Extra Help savings.

Geographical Restrictions

Extra Help is a federal program for Medicare members who live in the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

Company Name Extra Help
Year Founded 2006
Kinds of Plans N/A  
Number of Plans N/A
Payment Options N/A
Customer Service Apply online, by phone, or by paper
Phone Number 800-772-1213
Official Website www.socialsecurity.gov/prescriptionhelp

Pros Explained

  • Helps pay Medicare prescription drug coverage costs: Original Medicare doesn’t cover prescription drugs, but paying for a Prescription Drug Plan can be too costly for people with lower incomes, leaving many without a way to afford medications. That’s where Extra Help comes in by helping low-income Medicare members pay the costs of their Prescription Drug Plan.
  • Savings can be significant: You may save approximately $5,000 per year with Extra Help, according to Social Security Administration estimates. 
  • Some people automatically qualify: If you’re eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare, you get help from Medicaid to pay your Medicare Part B premiums through a Medicare Savings Program (MSP), or if you have both Medicare and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you’re automatically eligible for Extra Help. Even if you don’t qualify automatically, you can apply to see if you’re eligible.

Cons Explained

  • Must meet income and asset limits: To qualify for Extra Help, you must earn less than $19,230 for an individual (or $26,130 for a married couple living together) and can’t own more than $14,790 as an individual (or $29,520 for a married couple living together) of certain types of resources. Resources that count toward this limit include real estate other than your primary residence, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, bank accounts, retirement accounts, and cash. Not counted in your resources are your primary residence, vehicles, personal possessions, life insurance policies, burial expenses and interest on money you plan to use for burial expenses, and any property you use for self-support.
  • Can’t combine with Medicare Advantage plans: To use Extra Help subsidies, you must have a Stand-alone Prescription Drug Plan but you can’t have a Medicare Advantage Plan. If you have your heart set on a comprehensive managed care plan that bundles all your Medicare coverage—which you’d get with Medicare Advantage—you’ll have to choose between that type of plan and help paying for drug coverage; you can’t have both.
  • Online application isn’t available 24/7: Unlike most websites, the Extra Help application is only available certain hours—though the hours are pretty extensive. If you can’t finish the application in one setting, you’ll get a re-entry number so you can pick up where you left off and edit your prior answers if needed.

Available Programs

Extra Help is not a Medicare insurance plan, but a financial support program to help certain Medicare members pay for their medications. You must live in the U.S. and be enrolled in Original Medicare to qualify for Extra Help. You must also meet financial criteria: The value of your combined savings, investment, and real estate (excluding your home, vehicles, personal possessions, life insurance, burial plots, irrevocable burial contracts, or back payments from Social Security) cannot exceed $14,790, or $29,520 if you live with a spouse.

Fast Fact

Extra Help isn’t Medicare insurance; it’s financial assistance for Medicare members who need help paying for their medications.

Extra Help helps cover monthly premiums, annual deductibles, and copayments within a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan. 

To apply for Extra Help, you’ll need to share some information about your income and resources. Be prepared to apply with your Social Security card, bank account statements (including checking, savings, CDs), Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), stocks, bonds, savings bonds, mutual funds, and other investment statements, tax returns, payroll slips, and your most recent Social Security benefits awards letters or statements for the Railroad Retirement benefits, or Veterans benefits, pensions, and annuities. Even if you don’t have all these documents, you can make your best estimate and the Social Security Administration can figure out if you’re likely to qualify. You may later need to provide documentation but not necessarily. 

By applying for Extra Help, you also start the process of applying for help from your state with other Medicare costs through the Medicare Savings Programs. The Social Security Administration sends your information to your state, who then gets in touch with you about other savings programs if you qualify. You can opt out of sending your information to your state and still apply for Extra Help.

Warning

Just because you qualify for Extra Help doesn’t mean you’ll always be eligible; you may have to update your information and pay your Prescription Drug Plan costs if your income or assets increase.

Customer Service

Applying for Extra Help

You can apply for Extra help online, by phone, or by mail.

Online

Apply online at the Social Security website (https://secure.ssa.gov/i1020/start).

The online application is available Monday through Friday between 5 a.m. and 1 a.m. EST, Saturday between 5 a.m. and 11 p.m. EST, and Sunday 8 a.m. through 11:30 p.m. EST.

If you start the application but don’t finish it before the system shuts down, you can save your work, get a re-entry number, and return to finish your application. The site gives you a warning when it’s approaching the downtime.

 Telephone

Call 800-772-1213, Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. to apply over the phone. You can also call this number to request a paper application. 

Due to the pandemic, your local Social Security Office is likely closed for in-person assistance but may be able to help you apply by phone until they reopen. Find your local office via the Social Security Administration website.

General Help

You can call 1-800-MEDICARE or visit www.medicare.gov for information on Medicare Savings Programs or Medicare Prescription Drug plans. 

Or you can contact the State Health Insurance Counseling and Assistance Program (SHIP) in your area for help. Find your local SHIP at www.shiptacenter.org, call 877-839-2675, or email info@shiptacenter.org.

Customer Satisfaction 

Extra Help isn’t specifically reviewed or rated, but overall, Medicare members report a high level of satisfaction with their Medicare prescription drug coverage. According to a 2020 Medicare beneficiary survey, 92% said they were satisfied with prescription drug coverage and 87% said their Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan provided good value. Most respondents reported being able to afford their Prescription Drug Plan costs; 84% of those surveyed said their monthly Prescription Drug Plan premiums are affordable; and 81% said their out-of-pocket costs are reasonable.

Cost

While Medicare Prescription Drug Plans vary in costs by carrier, geography, and level of coverage, there is no cost to join the Extra Help program. The best way to find specific Prescription Drug Plan costs is to visit Medicare.gov and compare options in your area.

Competition: Extra Help vs. Humana 

Extra Help is not Medicare insurance, but a financial assistance program for Medicare members who have trouble affording their Prescription Drug Plan costs. To get Medicare insurance for prescription drugs, most Medicare Advantage plans offer drug coverage and many insurers offer Stand-alone Prescription Drug Plans. To qualify for Extra Help, you’ll have to choose a Prescription Drug Plan. Check out Humana, which offers Medicare plans in 84% of U.S. counties, the most of any Medicare insurer. Humana offers three types of Stand-alone Prescription Drug Plans, including the Humana Basic Rx Plan which is ideally suited for people who qualify for Extra Help. Premiums in this plan range from $19.70 to $45.00 per month; many drugs across tiers have $0 or very low copayments.

    Extra Help Humana
Number of States Available 50 50
Medicare Services Financial assistance with Prescription Drug Plan costs Medicare Advantage, Stand-alone Prescription Drug Plans, Special Needs Plans, and Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap) Plans
Customer Service Options Online, telephone, mail  Telephone, online, in person, chat (for members)
AM Best Rating N/A A- (Excellent)
Average CMS Star Rating N/A  3.63 
Final Verdict

Extra Help is a financial assistance program for people who need help paying for prescription drug coverage and qualify based on income and assets. To use these subsidies, you must enroll in a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan. For help choosing a Prescription Drug Plan, check out our round-up of the Best Medicare Part D Providers.

How We Reviewed Medicare Providers

Even Medicare health plans with a national presence can vary locally in their cost, quality, and customer satisfaction. To evaluate Medicare plans, we looked at health insurance industry ratings from the primary accrediting agency for health plans, National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), and the Medicare Star Ratings from CMS, the regulatory agency that oversees Medicare. We included the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ complaint index and AM Best’s financial stability ratings. We also considered information from the companies on their programs and strategies.

Article Sources

Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy .
  1. Social Security Administration. “Understanding the Extra Help With Your Medicare Prescription Drug Plan.” Accessed March 28, 2021.

  2. Social Security Administration. “Understanding the Extra Help With Your Medicare Prescription Drug Plan.” Accessed March 28, 2021.

  3. Social Security. “Extra Help With Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Costs.” Accessed March 27, 2021.

  4. Medicare Today. “Senior Satisfaction Survey.” Accessed March 28, 2021.

  5. Kaiser Family Foundation. “Medicare Advantage 2021 Spotlight: First Look.” Accessed December 11, 2020.

  6. Humana. “Humana Basic Rx Plan (PDP).” Accessed March 28, 2021.