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Community Educators Discuss Medicare and Social Security

Trained volunteers meet with large and small groups

John Putzear, one of 80 Community Education volunteers AARP trained to speak to groups about Medicare and Social Security.

Photo by Andy DeLisle

John Putzear, one of 80 Community Education volunteers AARP trained to speak to groups about Medicare and Social Security, started with his friends, hosting wine-and-cheese parties at his Glendale home.

Phoenix retiree Diane Sanders, 64, was in the health insurance claims business for 40 years but always wanted to teach. In a way, she's making that wish come true. Her "students" are often her age or older, but Sanders is living her dream — as a volunteer educator for AARP Arizona.

And there's another payoff for Sanders: During a training class on Medicare plan choices, she realized that the information she provides to others will be beneficial when it's time to make her own Medicare choices.

See also: 10 things to know about Social Security.

"The complexities of health and retirement programs are easier to understand if you hear them from someone who knows how to talk to you," said another volunteer, Carl Erickson, 63, of Litchfield Park.

That's the idea behind the new AARP Arizona Community Educators Program, which has about 80 trained speakers like Sanders and Erickson.

Volunteers speak throughout the state at service and social clubs, community organizations, colleges, churches, retirement communities and other gathering places, said David Parra, AARP Arizona associate state director for multicultural outreach and organizer of the program.

The volunteers go to where older people gather and where they are relaxed. Each session includes time for the audience members to ask questions about Medicare, Social Security and the new health care law.

For instance, a presentation on Medicare explains the differences among Parts A, B, C and D and the differences between the traditional Medicare program and Medicare Advantage (Part C).

The presenters discuss the coverage and copayments under each plan but don't recommend one over the others.

Next: "A knowledgeable friend." »

Erickson, a retired J.C. Penney store manager, said his niche is talking to businesspeople. He recently spoke to groups of financial planners and to nursing home and assisted living managers.

"Medicare is as much a financial issue as a medical issue," he told them, and Erickson believes he got their attention.

"The people who are working with retiring baby boomers want to know all the elements of it, so they can provide a high level of help when they need it," he said.

Erickson doesn't see himself as an expert but as a knowledgeable friend. "There are things I don't know, and I admit it. I do have a lot of websites that I can refer them to for answers."

John Putzear, 68, has hosted a half-dozen wine-and-cheese sessions on Medicare at his Glendale home this year. Attendees are mostly from his circle of gay and lesbian friends.

In years past, talk at similar gatherings might have centered on matters other than health care, the retired social worker said. Today, however, his mostly single friends — now older — need as much information as possible to secure good health care in their later years.

Reaching out to Latinos

Mari Alvarado, 67, a retired Phoenix teacher, is finding her own audiences by reaching out, in Spanish, to older Latinos to discuss Medicare and the health care law.

She said Latinos are more comfortable with someone who speaks their language, so the nuances of these complicated government programs don't get lost in the translation.

"If I can help seniors make their lives more secure, even in some small way, then I know I'm doing something good," she said.

June Pelletier, 71, a retired paralegal from Surprise, agreed. "A lot of information is available online, but not everyone is computer literate."

Glen Spencer, director of the Benefits Assistance Program at the Maricopa County Area Agency on Aging in Phoenix, said the AARP program fills a gap. His group does similar presentations, but, with boomers hitting retirement, the demand for good, basic information continues to grow, Spencer said.

To request a Community Educators Program speaker, call Connie Fladeland toll-free at 1-866-389-5649 or email

Maureen West is a writer living in Phoenix.

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