Aging Well: Program provides free help with Medicare

Medicare help

The Colorado Senior Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) offers free confidential counseling to individuals needing help choosing Medicare health and prescription drug plans or navigating Medicare issues. Betsy Packer is the SHIP counselor for Northwest Colorado. To schedule an appointment with Betsy, call 970-879-0633 or 888-696-7213.

Betsy will discuss the upcoming enrollment period for prescription drug plans (Medicare Part D) during two speaking engagements:

■ 12:30 p.m. Oct. 27 at Haven Community Center in Hayden

■ 12:30 p.m. Nov. 8 at the Steamboat Springs Community Center

Volunteers needed

Northwest Colorado SHIP is seeking volunteers to help older adults understand Medicare. Volunteers will attend a three-day, all-expense-paid training (date and location will be determined based on interest).

There is immediate need for volunteers to help older adults choose a Medicare prescription drug plan during open enrollment Nov. 15 through Dec. 31. Volunteers can attend one of several all-day trainings focused on Medicare Part D in early November.

Volunteers will choose their own hours, must have basic computer skills and cannot be insurance brokers or have a license to sell insurance. Patience and a desire to help older adults are helpful. For more information, call Betsy Packer at 970-879-0633 or 888-696-7213.

To learn more about Medicare, visit www.medicare.gov.>

If Betsy Packer wore a Halloween costume, it might be that of a super hero with a large “M” emblazoned on the cape.

Packer is the Northwest Colorado coordinator for SHIP — the Colorado Senior Health Insurance Assistance Program. She provides free counseling to older adults overwhelmed and confused by Medicare.

Keeping up with demand is no small task, and she expects that challenge will grow as more people seek help choosing or changing their Medicare prescription drug plans during the enrollment period Nov. 15 through Dec. 31.

She is seeking help from a few volunteer caped crusaders.

“The service they would do for the seniors in this community would be priceless,” said Karen Burley, director of The Haven Assisted Living Center and a member of the Senior Task Force, a group of senior service providers in the Yampa Valley.

Concerned about older adults’ lack of understanding about Medicare, they are promoting the SHIP program and encouraging volunteers to extend its reach.

Older adults face a variety of challenges when navigating the complex world of Medicare. Many do not have computer skills or access to the Internet, which is one of the best tools for understanding Medicare and finding answers to questions.

Many older adults also are confused by government letters related to Medicare claims, changes and upcoming deadlines.

“I would say 65 to 75 percent of seniors who get these letters in the mail don’t understand what they are reading,” Burley said.

Medicare basics

Medicare is health insurance mostly for people ages 65 and older.

Individuals receiving Social Security benefits receive their Medicare enrollment package and card in the mail three months before their 65th birthday and are automatically enrolled the month of their birthday.

Older adults not receiving Social Security benefits have seven months, beginning three months before their 65th birthday, to enroll in Medicare. Otherwise, they typically must wait until the next enrollment period, Jan. 1 through March 31.

People are automatically enrolled in original government-run Medicare. This includes Part A, which helps cover hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, hospice and home health care; and Part B, which helps pay for doctor visits, outpatient care and some preventative services.

Part A coverage is premium-free for most people. There is a premium for Part B, which is withheld from a person’s Social Security payments. Deductibles, co-insurance or co-payments also apply.

Private “Medigap” policies are available to help cover these holes.

Individuals can opt out of Part B, though they likely will have to pay a premium penalty if they decide to re-enroll later.

Instead of original Medicare, some people choose to enroll in Medicare Advantage Plans or Part C, which involves health plans approved by Medicare but run by private companies.

Medicare Advantage Plans include regular Medicare-covered services (Part A and Part B) and usually other benefits, which vary by plan. Policy holders usually can get prescription drug coverage for an additional cost.

Older adults with original Medicare or a Medicare Advantage Plan can enroll in one of 31 Medicare-approved prescription drug plans (Part D) run by private companies. Plans vary in the regions and prescriptions they cover.

They can join a prescription drug plan when they first become eligible for Medicare benefits.

People with Medicare also can enroll in or change their prescription drug plan during annual open enrollment Nov. 15 through Dec. 31.

Volunteers

SHIP counselors like Packer and volunteers help older adults better understand the Medicare road map and the many rules, exceptions and details that apply to each person’s situation.

Volunteers are needed to help older adults choose the best prescription drug plans for their needs during the upcoming open enrollment period.

People interested in helping can take part in one of several one-day trainings offered in Colorado in early November.

Packer also is seeking volunteers to help older adults year-round with all aspects of Medicare. These volunteers will attend a three-day training.

Packer is hoping for several volunteers each in Routt, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Jackson counties.

Volunteers must have basic computer skills and cannot be insurance brokers or have a license to sell insurance. Once trained, they will choose their own hours and work one-on-one with older adults.

— Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at tmanzanares@nwcovna.org. Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and older. For more information, visit www.agingwelltoday.com or call 970-871-7666.

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