Gisela Garrison, director of the VNA health center, in the VNA Medicaid office.

Photo by Erin Fenner

Gisela Garrison, director of the VNA health center, in the VNA Medicaid office.

Understanding Medicare and Medicaid in Moffat County

Healthcare in America is changing. Healthcare.gov, the Affordable Care Act website, launched Oct. 1 and has received criticism for not being user-friendly and packed with glitches. Regardless of the deficiencies of the website and the law, it has changed the insurance market and what existing government healthcare programs can provide to whom.

Because of the Affordable Care Act, about 750 Moffat County adult residents will become newly eligible for Medicaid.

Also, Medicare will offer more preventative coverage for free and cheaper prescription options for people who are spending about $3,000 on their medication per year.

Residents of Moffat County can seek out different local agencies and counselors to see what medical coverage they are eligible for and how they can access it.

Moffat Medicare

Lois Stoffle, of Maybell, has been on Medicare for more than six years now. She worked on finding a plan that would be good for her needs and her husband’s, who is living in a nursing home.

It wasn’t always easy to sift through the information readily available from Medicare.

“There are challenges because some of the talk in the books are doubletalk,” she said. “A lot of deciphering.”

But, it became much easier when she sought out help from local Medicare counselors, Betsy Packer and Cathy Vanatta in Craig.

“There’s also a lot of help out there if you ask for it,” Stoffle said.

Vanatta is a volunteer with State Health Insurance Assistance Programs, and said she wants to make sense of Medicare for people turning 65.

“A lot of people just don’t know. They just try to read about it, but it’s really hard to understand,” she said.

As of December 2012, more than 1,700 people in Moffat County were using Medicare as their insurance.

In the years that Packer started working as a counselor, the numbers of people who sought out Moffat County’s SHIP has gone up significantly. In 2009, only 15 people came to the SHIP office, but in 2012, 126 people asked Packer or Vanatta for help.

The counseling team has been working on outreach lately because it is the season for open enrollment. From Oct. 7 to Dec. 15, people using Medicare can change the prescription side of their Medicare plans. While the women in the SHIP office can’t formally offer advice, they do want to give a comprehensive talk about what options are available.

They will be hosting a workshop from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday at the College of Northwest Colorado Belltower. Seniors should come with their pill bottles or a list of their prescriptions so the two counselors can address specific questions.

Moffat Medicaid

Medicaid has been directly affected and expanded by the Affordable Care Act. In 2013, more than 2,200 people in Moffat County were using Medicaid, but that number could jump since an estimated population of at least 750 people in the area will become eligible for the program starting Jan. 1, 2014.

“Medicaid is not insurance, but it’s a program through the state that offers free or low cost health,” said Erin Gleason, community and small business health insurance coordinator for Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association. “It will satisfy the need to have insurance beginning in 2014.”

It does help people with limited incomes and disabilities pay their medical bills.

“It does cover certain prescriptions,” she said. “It covers some major medical and emergency services, and preventative care.”

The upcoming expansion mostly will affect adults without children.

“It used to be that there was this generally for families and children especially,” she said. “One thing that’s changing is that Medicaid is being opened up to adults who don’t have children.”

But many may be reluctant to get benefits they are eligible for, Gleason said.

“I definitely think that there is some stigma attached to Medicaid. I think a lot of people think they are a drain on society,” she said. “But really if they qualify, it can relieve some of the burden on their family. Better health makes for better citizens.”

It also can be a challenge for people living in rural areas to access the resources they need to apply for Medicaid.

To apply “you can go into your local Social Services (office); it has to be in the county you reside in,” she said. “So the Dinosaur folks can’t go to Rangely and get help. They can go online through the PEAK website (the online site where Coloradoans can apply for Medicaid).”

People who think they may be eligible for Medicaid can go to Social Services to sign up or to the VNA office.

Erin Fenner can be reached at 970-875-1794 or efenner@craigdailypress.com.

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