Volunteers help seniors with Medicare decisions

By Marge Ginsburg

Like many friends and neighbors, I faced the question of how to use my retirement years. I became a Medicare counselor in the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP).

Because most of my career focused on healthcare policy, becoming a counselor was a logical step to helping seniors and their families make sound, informed choices about Medicare. This was one of the smartest decisions I’ve made (besides moving to Curtis Park).

HICAP was established in the 1980s when Medicare’s growing complexity surpassed the ability of the Medicare hotline to address increasingly complex situations.

Our program in Sacramento functions under the nonprofit Legal Services of Northern California. Funded by federal and state grants, Sacramento’s HICAP includes 40 trained volunteer counselors who serve residents of nine counties. Our meetings with clients take place in community centers, libraries and other local venues throughout the region. Since the pandemic started, counseling sessions have been done by phone.

Referrals commonly reach us through the Social Security office, counseling sites, or via friends and relatives. All counseling services are unbiased and free of charge. The goal is to help people make decisions that best meet their individual needs.

Of course, not all Medicare decisions require a counseling session. Many people get the information they need through the website https://www.medicare.gov.

They can also obtain an electronic or print version of “Medicare & You 2020,” which provides basic information for making an informed decision.

Yet, not all questions and concerns can be addressed with general information. Here are a few examples from my clients:

  • I’m about to turn 65 but can stay on my spouse’s employer-based coverage. Does it make sense to do that?
  • I’m inundated with mailings from insurance companies about “Medicare Advantage” and “Medigap” plans. How do I decide what to sign up for?
  • My parents live in Sacramento but I live in the East Bay. I’m getting nervous about their Medicare coverage decisions.
  • I know that open enrollment comes in October when we can switch plans. How do I decide if I should or need to change plans?
  • Medicare denied payment for the ambulance service that my husband needed. Can you help me appeal this?
  • What are my options for lowering my drug costs?

If you or someone you know could use help in understanding Medicare, call our main office at (916) 376-8915 to request a counseling session. There is nothing to lose and a lot to gain.

For more information about the program, feel free to email me at mginsburg@hicapservices.net.

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