COA offers insurance help for seniors

Medicare/Medicaid open enrollment Oct. 15 to Dec. 7

OSCEOLA COUNTY — Seniors needing help navigating their Medicare/Medicaid coverage can now visit the Osceola County Commission on Aging office for help through the Michigan Medicare Assistance Program. The MMAP aims to educate, counsel and empower Michigan’s older adults, individuals with disabilities and those who serve them, so they can make informed health benefit decisions, according to the website. MMAP runs through Area Agency on Aging, which trains volunteers and COA employees throughout the state in helping seniors navigate their insurance and make smart decisions. Beginning in August, the Osceola County COA joined COAs around the state in offering the service to seniors. “It is so confusing,” said Helen Decator, Osceola County COA trained MMAP counselor. “It’s terribly important for seniors to have someone to help them (with Medicare or Medicaid).” MMAP counselors help seniors in reviewing services such as supplemental (Medigap) insurance evaluation and comparison, billing concerns, Medicare Health Plan options, long-term care insurance evaluation and comparison, Medicaid assistance, Medicare appeals process, prescription drug assistance as well as suspected waste, fraud and abuse. “For instance, someone who is disabled and has Medicare and they also have very good coverage through their spouse’s employment, but now their spouse is going to lose his job, they will have to figure out (their coverage) or their medications may not be covered the next year,” Decator said. Other examples include individuals with a sudden chronic illness who may need help ensuring their medications are covered, or someone who recently lost a spouse and needs help changing insurance plans. “By far the largest need for the MMAP program is helping people align their prescription plan,” said COA Director Scott Schryer. With Medicare or Medicaid prescription coverage continually changing, it is important for seniors to make sure their medications still are covered by their insurance. Individuals who do not assess their plans during the open enrollment period each year may be stuck with copays they did not have or prescriptions that are not covered, Schryer said. “Another huge thing that MMAP counselors do is help people get their bills aligned. That can be very stressful seniors,” Schryer said. “We’ll help them call through it and in get rid of that stress. It’s a very beneficial service to our clientel.” The open enrollment period for Medicare and Medicaid – the time when individuals can make changes in their plan before being locked in for the year – runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. Seniors are encouraged to utilize the MMAP service during that time, if not before. “When (Medicare/Medicaid) becomes too difficult, people just ignore it,” Decator said. “When it becomes too late, they get stuck with mega bills. If they know there is somebody out there to help, we can help before that happens.” Seniors inquiring about Medicare/Medicaid assistance prior to the implementation of the MMAP program were sent to Grand Rapids through the Area Agency on Aging. Now, seniors over the age of 60 are invited to call the office at (231) 734-5559 and schedule an appointment with the MMAP counselor.