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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 9, 2006

Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan and Julie Goon, Director of Medicare Outreach, HHS
Aboard Air Force One
En route Sarasota, Florida

      In Focus: Medicare

10:05 A.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning, everybody. I brought Julie Goon back, she's a senior advisor to Secretary Leavitt at HHS, to talk a little bit more about those who are in the low-income bracket who are qualified, are having the ability to enroll after May 15th, as well. The President touched on that in his remarks. We talked about it a little bit over it the last couple of weeks, I think, but some of you had some questions on it. So with that, I'll just turn it over to Julie and let her give you the basics on it.

MS. GOON: Do you all want to ask questions, or do you want me to just give you a rundown real quick first?

MR. McCLELLAN: Why don't you go over some of the facts about what the President touched on.

MS. GOON: Okay. In looking at the remaining groups of people that need to be enrolled, out of the about 5.7 million people remaining, half of those are people who we think qualify for the low-income subsidy. That's the hardest group of beneficiaries to find and identify and get enrolled, and that's been consistently true in other low-income entitlement programs.

Because of the two-step enrollment process, those folks have to apply for the low-income subsidy through Social Security, be approved, then they enroll, and in many cases they can't afford the premiums until they are actually approved for the subsidy.

We decided that qualifying for the subsidy caused a change in their enrollment status, so that triggered a special election period. So for those folks, people who qualify for the low-income subsidy, they will be allowed to enroll past the May 15th deadline.

There was some question of whether or not the penalty that's applied to people after the deadline would apply to low-income subsidy beneficiaries, and it was decided that we can waive that penalty because it would cause -- the penalty for low-income subsidy beneficiaries is so diminimous, it would cost more to collect it than it would be to actually have the value of that penalty collected. So for low-income people, they're not going to have to worry about the May 15th deadline, and they're not going to have to worry about paying a penalty if they don't get enrolled right away. And like I said, that's about half of the remaining beneficiaries left to be enrolled.

Q And the remaining is 5.7 million?

MS. GOON: About 5.7 million.

Q How many have signed up so far? What's the total now?

MS. GOON: Total overall? It's just over 31 million. And then there is another 5.8 million that have other sources of credible coverage. So we're right up around 37 million right now.

Q Is there a simple way to describe what that low-income cutoff is, or is it a complicated formula?

MS. GOON: For individuals, it's income of about $15,000 a year and under, and assets of around $11,000. So there is an income test and an asset. For couples it's a little higher; I think it's around $21,000 in income.

Q You think about half the 5.7 million are low-income who are eligible for the special subsidy?

MS. GOON: Yes, that's right. About half of the 5.7 million remaining beneficiaries to be enrolled are folks we estimate are eligible for the low-income subsidy.

Q How do you find them in less than a week?

MS. GOON: Well, again, that's why it's important to know that we're allowing them more time to be found. So when we find them, that does trigger a special election period with no longer any penalties, so we can get them enrolled. But there's a lot of work going on -- I'm sorry.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, go ahead. I think you were getting to it.

MS. GOON: I was just going to say, there's a lot of work going on with different partners -- the National Council on Aging, the AARP, a lot of the non-traditional minority organizations are working with us, the NAACP. There are a lot of Hispanic organizations that have put out calls to actions to their groups to get all of these folks enrolled and qualified.

Q But what kind of things are they doing? Like, what kind of things are the organizations doing?

MS. GOON: Well, they're hosting events in churches. Yesterday was "Sign Up Sunday" in a number of African American churches around the country. The Secretary visited a number of those churches. But they had enrollment going on after the church service. They've been advertising in their bulletins. The Hispanic organizations have put out a call to action to all of their folks asking for people to work with, and get their family members enrolled.

MR. McCLELLAN: All right? Okay. Thanks. Appreciate it, Julie.

MS. GOON: No problem.

Q Thank you, ma'am. That was very nice of you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Are you done?

Q No.

Q The Iran letters. Does the President intend to formally respond to the letter from Ahmadinejad with a letter or some other method?

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me remind you what the Secretary of State said yesterday, what I said yesterday. This letter does nothing at all to address the concerns of the international community, or that the international community has regarding the regime's nuclear program. The regime needs to come clean and comply with its obligations. And that's why discussions are continuing at the Security Council, or amongst the Security Council, on moving ahead on a Chapter 7 resolution that would compel the regime to come clean and comply with its obligations.

The letter appears to be more about trying to change the subject. Secretary Rice is up in New York. She's had discussions with her counterparts within the Security Council, and Germany, as well. And those discussions are continuing.

Q So, are you kind of -- you're saying that he is not going to respond with a letter or --

MR. McCLELLAN: It's not an issue of whether we respond, it's an issue of whether the regime will respond to the demands of the international community. The international community is concerned about the regime's pursuit of nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian program.

Q Okay, thanks.

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, thank you. (Laughter.)

END 10:12 A.M. EDT

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