Morristown Medicare recipient removed from savings program after confusing mailer

MORRISTOWN (WATE) – A Morristown grandmother found her Social Security disability check cut drastically a few months ago, and she didn’t understand why. Hundreds of dollars were deducted from her monthly check because she didn’t fill out a renewal from TennCare, but she’s never been on the state’s Medicaid program.

Several times a month, Kathy Flaherty sorts clothing she collects from yard sales to get them ready for the flea market where she sells them. Flaherty, 56, is disabled and has been on Social Security disability since 2003. Because of her low income, she’s eligible for the Medicare Savings Program, or MSP, which pays for doctor visits.

A letter came in March from Social Security informing her Tennessee will no longer pay her Medicare Part B premium and that her disability check will be cut $400.

“They say because I didn’t do the TennCare letter, they’re going to make me pay for my premiums now,” said Flaherty.

Though Flaherty has never been on TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program, she received a letter from the state in December informing her it’s “time to renew TennCare.”

“It’s very confusing. All these years, I’ve never had a letter like this. I’ve never had to do anything,” she said.

Flaherty made some calls to find out why her disability check was being docked.

Kathy Flaherty

“That’s when I discovered all these years all my premiums are paid by TennCare through Medicare. Somehow or the other, that’s how my premiums are paid,” she said. “I was never aware of it. I mean, it’s confusing. All of a sudden, ‘Hey you’re on TennCare.’ Wow, I didn’t know it.”

“They got no notice, they got no packet from TennCare, just suddenly they have a Social Security check that is half as much as what it was before,” said Tennessee Justice Center Attorney Chris Coleman.

Coleman works for a group that fights for the rights of those without a voice.

“So they receive a notice [that] it’s time to renew your TennCare. They don’t have TennCare and have never been told they have TennCare So, if they received a packet, they think it’s not for them,” he said.

Flaherty said she had never before received notification to renew TennCare because she’s not on the state’s Medicaid program. Since the Medicare Savings Program is administered by TennCare, it says on page two of that letter sent in December, those on MSP must renew with TennCare.

Coleman and attorneys from the Tennessee Justice Center spoke to authorities at TennCare last week on behalf of people like Flaherty and others.

“They have agreed to change the wording to notify people that this about their Medicare Savings Program benefits and not TennCare,” he said.

Flaherty said she almost lost her modest rent-to-buy three-bedroom home after her disability check was cut.

“I’ve never missed a payment. I’ve always been on time. Thank the Lord, they were willing to work with me,” she said.

In response to WATE 6 On Your Side’s inquiry, TennCare said, “We have made recent updates to the envelopes MSP recipients are sent to include language about Medicare benefits.” They also said that “it is very important that anyone who receives mail from TennCare reads the information provided as it often pertains to eligibility and benefits.”

TennCare said there were approximately “55,000 redetermination packets sent to MSP recipients.”

Flaherty received good news earlier this month from TennCare that her Medicare Savings Program has been restored.

TennCare says anyone who needs to have their Medicare Savings Program benefits renewed needs to go through the appeals process by filling out the papers and sending them in, just like Flaherty did. The process could take 45 to 60 days to complete, so don’t expect immediate action.

TennCare also says if you receive a renewal notice from them, to make sure to read it thoroughly.

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