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Navigating the Medicare Maze

“Anytime I can save a person money or make them feel comfortable about a decision they’ve made through my coaching is a success story in my book,” said AARP member Mike Majowicz, 72, while sitting at his kitchen table and cruising the newspaper for any helpful information on health insurance.

Majowicz of Aloha recently received the Oregon Governor’s 2010 Outstanding Senior Volunteer Award for his many years of service to the Senior Health Insurance Benefits Assistance program. He got involved with the program after struggling with all the information and decisions when he turned 65. While the average volunteer commits two to four hours a week to SHIBA, Majowicz enjoys working one-on-one with clients to explore health insurance options and find the best plan so much it’s now nearly a “full-time job.” Majowicz is clocking 40 hours a week in volunteer work for SHIBA, nearly the same he put into his systems engineering career at Hewlett-Packard.

“Medicare is a complex subject already and with the policy changes and new rules this year, we’ve been trying to get comprehensive information out to counselors as quick as possible so they’re ready to work with clients,” said Lisa Emerson, SHIBA program manager.

Emerson and Majowicz believe there are several critical changes to understand about Medicare provisions in the new health care law. First and foremost is that personal help is available and secondly that now is the time to do it.

Here’s a quick summary of those key changes:

  • Annual Enrollment Period ends Dec. 31. If you’re new to Medicare, you must enroll between Nov. 15 and Dec. 31. The disenrollment period from a Medicare Advantage plan is from Jan. 1 to Feb. 14.
  • Medicare Part D prescription recipients are eligible for a $250 rebate check in 2010 and significant discounts in 2011. There is a 50-percent discount on brand-name prescription drugs and a 7-percent discount on generic prescription drugs.
  • Starting in 2011, Medicare will pay for an annual wellness visit and a personalized prevention plan. Other preventative services now required to be cost-free include immunizations and screenings for cancer and diabetes.

To learn about these and other changes to Medicare, set up a free appointment with a SHIBA counselor by calling 1-800-722-4134 toll free. Find additional resources see SHIBA online.

SHIBA volunteers like Majowicz take pride in the quality of service the program provides. There is a thorough application and training process including seven online training modules on Medicare options and 10 hours of mentored counseling before volunteers start one-on-one counseling.

“We see clients who build ongoing relationships with counselors and keep coming back for advice,” said Emerson. “We’re always looking for people who want to volunteer to help others and themselves.”

Currently, SHIBA has approximately 250 active unpaid counselors across the state assisting about 25,000-30,000 Medicare enrollees a year. About 5,000 of those one-on-one counseling sessions occur in just the six-week open enrollment period.

SHIBA expects higher than average client assistance during open enrollment this year due to non-renewing plans. Since there are so many changes right now, counselors like Majowicz, are also being especially vigilant about ensuring clients avoid Medicare fraud.

Get help for yourself or a loved one, Medicare Starts at 65 or Senior Health Insurance Benefits Assistance Program, or call the SHIBA Helpline toll-free at 1-800-722-4134. Volunteer or call 1-800-722-4134 and ask about volunteer opportunities.

More Information

AARP Medicare Enrollment Information Portal

AARP the ABCDs of Medicare Webinars

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Open Enrollment Center

Things to Think About When You Compare Plans

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