Many senior citizens hard pressed to figure it out, too

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Putnam County senior citizens who have until the end of December to make changes to their Medicare plans for next year are worried about more than just meeting the filing deadline.

For most who gathered at the Putnam County Senior Center Tuesday morning to talk about their Medicare options, knowing which plan to choose is an overwhelming task.

"We're all confused," Greencastle resident Sue Dailey said. "We don't know what to do, when to do it or how to do it."

Betty Fenwick said she would like to add coverage to her plan for next year, but she's not sure how to do it.

"It's hard to understand what they're talking about sometimes," she said. "A lot of people are confused."

Nationally, organizations like Senior Educators are reporting a surprising amount of apathy, or disinterest, on the part of seniors this year to learn more about the system.

Late last month the agency issued a press release stating that senior advocacy groups across the country were reporting a significant decline in the number of seniors asking questions about their Medicare plans this year compared to last year.

The reason, according to the agency, is widespread frustration lingering among seniors from last year's enrollment period. Many seniors are choosing to stick with their old plans for 2007 rather than go through the confusion of making changes to them.

That's true for local residents like Constantine and Ann Osol who admit they have in fact lost some interest in the system, but it's not because they don't care.

"That's what the government offers and we have no choice," Constantine said. "It's already the law and we have nothing to say."

Anna Dwigans, who was sitting nearby the Osols, said she feels helpless when it comes to understanding the changes to Medicare and knowing which plan will best suit her. She, like the others, is on a fixed income and fears what rising medical costs could mean for her daily living.

For the Osols, Medicare coverage costs $1,000 per month, which comes directly out of their Social Security payments. They wonder what would happen if their health suddenly declined and they became trapped underneath a mountain of medical bills.

Greencastle resident Barbara Black said she has declined to sign up for medical coverage to this point because she is healthy. She doesn't know how she would go about choosing a plan or where to go for advice if she got sick.

"There are so many insurance companies out there," she said.

In addition, Dailey expressed frustration over trying to call an out-of-town company and getting lost in the maze of an automated phone system.

"You get lost in the phone system and then when you finally get to someone, you have no idea who you're talking to," Dailey said.

But local help is available, according to Cheryl St. Claire, director of the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP).

She said residents need to call Putnam County Hospital at 653-5121 and ask to speak with a SHIP counselor who will answer their Medicare questions.

Medicare offers a number of different options to clients -- some with a higher premium and lower out-of-pocket expenses and others with a lower premium but much higher out-of-pocket. Choosing the best option is not easy.

St. Claire told the BannerGraphic she believes education is the key to choosing the right plan. Her office, located in Anderson, receives between 200 to 300 phone calls each day from people seeking answers to their Medicare questions.

"It is overwhelming to them because their are so many options to choose from," St. Claire said.

SHIP, according to its website, is a nonprofit, non-bias and free service for seniors to ask questions about the Medicare system. It is not affiliated with any insurance company and does not sell insurance. Information is available on two different websites: or

St. Claire said the main concern of seniors who contact her office is prescription drugs and knowing what Medicare will cover.

What she normally does is ask seniors to send her a list of the drugs they take each month. In return, she sends them a price comparison sheet showing them what each plan will cost for their individual drug needs. Her office can be reached at 1-800-452-4800, extension 4.

Senior citizens are not the only ones worried about choosing the right Medicare plan.

Local residents Ron Terrell is 55 years old, disabled and in need of help with medical expenses.

He told the BannerGraphic he takes between seven and nine pills a day and is on a fixed income. He is looking for some type of supplemental insurance to help with expenses.

"That's my biggest concern right now," he said.

Terrell said he agrees that many people do not seek the help they need in choosing an insurance plan.

"A lot of people don't like to talk about it and their afraid to admit they need help," Terrell said. "Myself, I'd like to find out more about it."

In addition to SHIP, information about Medicare is also available at the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). It's website,, offers a section on Medicare and explains what is offered by each of the plans individuals can choose from.

To get to the Medicare section of the website, click on the "health" section at the top of the page, then go to the "Topics in Health" section and finally, click on the Medicare button.

The deadline to file changes or to enroll in Medicare for the first time is Dec. 31. The coverage will take effect in 2007.

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