Medicare: Getting help to sort through all the options

Warwick Beacon ·

To Annmarie Walker, selecting the best Medicare prescription plan is daunting. Is she paying too much for what’s covered, or by selecting one of the lower-cost options will the plan cover everything she needs?

Those are the kind of questions now being faced by 190,000 Rhode Islanders with Medicare open enrollment, which started Oct. 15 and ends Dec. 7. Many people will simply do nothing, allowing their current plans to continue for at least another year. Changing plans after Dec. 7 isn’t an option.

That, in itself, makes it all the more important to get it right now.

Sylvia Dulgarian knows. She is a member of a team of seven volunteers who provide one-on-one counseling to those needing help making a choice of plans or just looking for a second opinion at the Pilgrim Senior Center.

Sylvia loves the work. In fact, from her description, it’s like solving a puzzle if not out-smarting the providers. She has a healthy suspicion of the providers and believes in some instances “once they have you hooked” the plans change from one year to the next, and so do the cost of medications.

What’s more, Sylvia says people have no idea of the benefits they’re entitled to.

Adding to the confusion is a barrage of advertisements and paperwork.

“Everybody gets stuff in the mail, and what does it mean?” asks Kathleen Bennett, who coordinates the Senior Health Insurance Program (SHIP) at the center. The Rhode Island Division of Elderly Affairs runs the program.

Bennett is not only versed in the Medicare options available, but as an employee of the center is familiar with the multitude of city and state programs available to the elderly from city tax exemptions to food and heating assistance. Frequently by looking at the overall financial burdens – not just the cost of a Medicare prescription plan – Bennett and her team are able to suggest a plan with better coverage based on savings in other living costs. Such counseling is a godsend for Walker.

“I could never do this at home,” she said.

The center program has earned an enviable reputation. One-on-one counseling is offered on an appointment basis Tuesday afternoons and Friday mornings.

In addition, Bennett conducts four Medicare seminars for United/AARP Medicare Complete and Blue Chip for Medicare participants, the first of which was held this Monday. Additional seminars are Nov. 10 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Nov. 16 from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., and Nov. 21 from 10 a.m. to noon. All the seminars are conducted at the senior center. There’s no charge. To register, call Bennett at 468-4084.

What is being offered at the Pilgrim Senior Center is one of 160 events across the state in partnership with the Division of Elderly Affairs.

In a statement released by the division, Director of Elderly Affairs Charles Fogarty said, “This year there are many plan options to consider, and coverage for the same plan may be different than in the past. Open enrollment is the time to shop for the best plan that meets your needs. Our highly trained SHIP staff and volunteers can help you understand your choices and your rights. Open enrollment should be looked at as an opportunity to explore Medicare health plans and Part D plans to ensure you are receiving the best coverage and value for your premium dollar.”

Bennett agrees.

“Education is power when it comes to this,” she said.

As for Sylvia, she enjoys looking at all the options available and suggesting how best people can meet their needs without breaking their budget.

Sylvia also volunteers to help people complete their tax returns at the senior center when that time of the year comes around.

“I love taxes,” she says with a smile.

Now that is saying a lot.

This story was originally posted by Warwick Beacon. Click here to view the original story in its entirety.

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