Local volunteers help seniors in Northwest Colorado navigate Medicare

Teresa Ristow
Senior citizens often need help signing up for Medicare. For help signing up with Medicare or to express interest in volunteering in Routt, Moffat or Rio Blanco counties, call Ship Medicare at 970-819-6401
Courtesy Photo

When Gordon Jones tried to sign up for Medicare at age 65, he found the process difficult.

“I found it very confusing,” Jones said. “It doesn’t matter how smart somebody is, you’re still going to be confused by the Medicare signup.”

Once he was enrolled, Jones saw an advertisement seeking volunteers to help other seniors sign up, and decided to become a volunteer counselor.

With as many as 10,000 baby boomers across America reaching the age of 65 each day, helping seniors navigate Medicare has become a growing task for local counselors.

While Medicare is relatively easy to sign up for and can take just a few minutes on a computer, some seniors find the plans complicated, are uncomfortable with using the internet or are afraid to put personal information online, according to Betsy Packer, a Medicare counselor with the Area Agency on Aging of Northwest Colorado.

“It’s very confusing. You get a lot of literature in the mail,” Packer said. “A lot of seniors aren’t comfortable on their computer, or with putting in their social security number.”

To help alleviate the confusion and, as Packer said, “navigate the maze of Medicare,” she and three unpaid volunteers work to help local seniors better understand the insurance coverage available and costs associate with the various parts of Medicare.

Medicare is broken into four main parts, each representing separate coverage and services.

• Part A is hospital insurance, and helps cover inpatient care in hospitals and skilled nursing facilities, hospice care and home health care.

• Part B is medical insurance, and helps cover doctor’s appointments, outpatient care and some preventative services.

• Part C is a cost plan, which includes the services of Part A and Part B, and sometimes Part D. Locally, Part C is offered through Rocky Mountain Health Plans.

• Part D is prescription drug coverage, and must be in combination with Part A or Part B.

People who already receive benefits from Social Security automatically get parts A and B of Medicare when they turn 65, while others can sign up during a seven month period centered around their 65th birthday.

Other important things to know about signing up are that programs exist for people with limited income and that certain coverage decisions are time sensitive and could include penalties, Packer said.

“You have several choices,” she said.

Packer will hold an “Intro to Medicare” program at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24 at Library Hall in the Bud Werner Memorial Library. The program will include an overview of the different parts of Medicare and a question and answer session.

Packer is seeking more volunteers to help local seniors sign up for Medicare. Volunteers undergo an initial one-day training and a further two-day training to learn how to help others sign up for Medicare. Volunteers set their own schedules, setting up meetings with seniors who contact Packer for assistance.

“If you can do something, it’s so gratifying to help others do it,” Jones said.

The volunteers are seeking an office space in the Steamboat area to hold the meetings, and have them in public places such as coffee shops in the meantime, Packer said.

Volunteers are particularly needed in Hayden and Craig, she said.

For help signing up with Medicare or to express interest in volunteering in Routt, Moffat or Rio Blanco counties, call Ship Medicare at 970-819-6401 or email

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