Grammy Award winner and rock and roll legend Chubby Checker wants you to know about a new twist in the law that makes it easier to qualify for extra help with Medicare prescription drug costs.

To qualify for extra help, people must meet certain resource and income limits. The new law eases those requirements in two ways. First, it eliminates the cash value of life insurance from counting as a resource. Second, it eliminates the assistance people receive from others to pay for household expenses, such as food, rent, mortgage or utilities, from counting as income.

There also is another important twist in the law. The application for extra help can now start the application process for Medicare Savings Programs -- state programs that provide help with other Medicare costs. These programs help pay Medicare Part B (medical insurance) premiums. For some people, the Medicare Savings Programs also pay Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) premiums, if any, and Part A and Part B deductibles and co-payments.

Anyone who has Medicare can enroll in a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, but if you have limited income and resources, you might be eligible for extra help to pay for the costs. Costs include monthly premiums, annual deductibles and prescription co-payments related to a Medicare prescription drug plan. To qualify for extra help:

* You must reside in one of the 50 states or the District of Columbia.

*Your resources must be limited to $12,510 for an individual or $25,010 for a married couple living together. Resources include such things as bank accounts, stocks and bonds. We do not count your house and car as resources.

* Your annual income must be limited to $16,245 for an individual or $21,855 for a married couple living together. Even if your annual income is higher, you still might be able to get some help. Some examples where your income might be higher are if you or your spouse support other family members who live with you; have earnings from work; or live in Alaska or Hawaii.

Even if you have applied in the past and found out you were not eligible at that time, I would encourage you to contact Social Security again to see if this new twist in the law will benefit you.

To learn more about the extra help program and to view the new TV spot featuring Chubby Checker, go to www.socialsecurity.gove/extrahelp.

The extra help program currently provides assistance to more than 9 million senior and disabled Americans, saving them an average of almost $4,000 a year on their Medicare prescription drug plan costs. To apply for extra help, there is an easy-to-use online application available at www.socialsecurity.gov, or you can call our toll free number, (800) 772-1213. Of course, you can also call or visit your local Social Security office.

"The Medicare Law that takes effect this month will allow hundreds of thousands of Americans who are struggling to pay their prescription drug costs to get extra help during these tough economic times," said Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue. "I am thrilled that Chubby Checker has volunteered to help us spread this important message."

Questions for this column should be mailed to Social Security Matters, Attn: James Feyerherm, 1212 E. 27th, Hays KS 67601. All names will be kept confidential. Other questions should be directed to (800) 772-1213, or call or visit your local Social Security office. You can also access SSA online at www.socialsecurity.gov.

James Feyerherm is district manager of the Hays Social Security Office.