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Halfway house residents struggle to buy food, medicine after facility issues run of bad checks | Premium

Residents of a private halfway house in Colorado Springs say they struggled for weeks to access personal funds for food, medication and other necessities while their halfway house-issued checks were rejected by banks and check-cashing services.

The snag at Community Alternatives of El Paso persisted despite administrators’ promises to fix the problem and held up money that belongs to residents, who are required to hand over their paychecks and other income as a condition of their incarceration. The halfway house takes out money for rent and restitution and issues residents periodic allowances.

Remaining funds in the residents’ accounts are returned, minus any rent and restitution, after their release.  

Starting in late August, CAE’s bank, Community Banks of Colorado, repeatedly refused to honor the allowance checks, but not before some residents believed they had successfully deposited them.

The resulting confusion caused some residents to overdraw their personal checking accounts, deepening their financial woes as they prepared for release, several residents told The Gazette. Others were turned away from check-cashing services, forcing them to borrow money from family members and friends to cover their expenses.


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Although food is provided at CAE, many residents leave on work release and eat outside the facility, and others avoid the food that’s served, which comes from the El Paso County jail.

For Robert Thompson, the issue was the latest hurdle to obtaining a critical seizure medication while incarcerated at CAE.

After being transferred to CAE from the El Paso County jail in July, Thompson said he went two days without his daily medication. When administrators took him to an urgent care center after his repeated complaints, a provider there prescribed him half of his normal dose of 1,000 mg twice daily.

Thompson attributes his struggle over medications for contributing to seizures while in CAE custody that led to two trips by ambulance to UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central, where doctors restored his normal prescription and said his seizures could cause brain damage and even death.   

“They are endangering my life,” said Thompson, 59, who estimated that up to a third of the population — about 170 people as of August — struggled to access their money.

Thompson provided receipts from Walmart and King Soopers showing that his CAE checks were rejected by check-cashing services at a time he said he needed to refill his prescription. He eventually received a new check from CAE and purchased a refill two days before running out.

He said Walmart and King Soopers had so many problems with checks from CAE that they stopped accepting them.

In a memo posted Sept. 23 at CAE, and obtained by the newspaper, administrators instructed inmates not to cash checks issued between Aug. 20-Sept. 22, citing a “system error at the bank.”  

Two other residents said they had checks returned prior to that period, and receipts examined by the newspaper showed problems continued afterward.


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Congress may limit Medicare Part B premium increase for 2021

Congress may be poised to head off a potential premium spike for some Medicare beneficiaries.

As part of a short-term government funding bill passed by the House last week and expected to be considered by the Senate on Wednesday, any increase in Medicare Part B premiums for 2021 would be capped.

While it’s still uncertain what the standard premium would be for 2021 — it is based on an actuarial formula and typically revealed in early November for the next year — estimates have proved tricky this year due to economic upheaval from the coronavirus pandemic.

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“One thing that’s really hard about this year is that there’s been increased costs from treating Covid, but decreased cost from people delaying care or avoiding being in hospitals or doctors offices,” said Casey Schwarz, senior counsel for education and federal policy at the Medicare Rights Center.

“Normally, we’d pretty much know by this time what the premium will be,” Schwarz said.

Although the Senate could seek changes to the House-approved funding bill — which keeps the government going through Dec. 11 — the measure passed with bipartisan support in the House. Additionally, Senate Republicans had included a provision to mitigate a possible Part B premium spike in their most recent stimulus bill, proposed in July.

If the House provision makes it into the final funding bill, any increase to the Part B premium would be capped at 25% of what it otherwise would be for 2021.

Normally, we’d pretty much know by this time what the premium will be.

Casey Schwarz

Senior counsel for education and federal policy at the Medicare Rights Center

Part B covers outpatient care, medical equipment and certain other medical services. Part A, which has no premium and is funded separately by a trust fund, provides hospital coverage. Together, those parts comprise basic Medicare.

The Medicare trustees forecasted in April that the standard 2021 Part B premium would rise to $153.30 in 2021 from $144.60 this year ($8.70 more monthly, or a 6% increase). However, the trustees’ report noted that the impacts of Covid-19 were unknown and therefore could not be factored into the estimates.

While many of Medicare’s 62.7 million beneficiaries are protected from large Part B premium hikes, others are not. And, higher-income beneficiaries already pay extra each month.

Part of the issue is how those premiums interact with Social Security benefits and the associated annual cost of living adjustment, or COLA.

If a Part B premium increase would eat up more than a Social Security recipient’s COLA in any given year, the person is “held harmless” and won’t see their Social Security benefits go down. (Their Part B premiums generally are withheld from their Social Security payments.)

“People who are held harmless can see a premium increase, but it can’t be larger than their