PA MEDI offers free health insurance assistance
By Bill Conallen
Medicare open enrollment for 2023 coverage starts Oct. 15 and runs through Dec. 7. State health insurance programs (SHIPs) across the country stand ready to assist Medicare beneficiaries with their health insurance needs. Pennsylvania’s SHIP program, Pennsylvania Medicare Education and Decision Insight (PA MEDI), provides older adults with free, confidential, objective and easy-to-understand information about health insurance options. Trained PA MEDI volunteers can counsel individuals all about Medicare, including Medicare Advantage and supplement plans, prescription drug coverage, cvand the Medicare appeals process. PA MEDI also helps older Pennsylvanians compare plan options and costs to determine which best meets their needs.
PA MEDI, formerly known as APPRISE, operates a free counseling service for anyone who qualifies for Medicare. Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA) provides PA MEDI services at no cost to older Philadelphians through a provider partnership with CARIE and Einstein Medical Center. PCA expects to assist more than 1,000 Medicare-eligible Philadelphians and their caregivers during Medicare’s annual open enrollment period. People who qualify for Medicare can receive informed and personalized options based on a combination of factors, including health conditions and financial situation.
Many PA MEDI volunteer counselors were once confused by Medicare. They, too, had questions or concerns about their health insurance coverage options. But after receiving assistance through PA MEDI, they wanted to share their newly acquired Medicare knowledge with others. PA MEDI volunteer counselors receive free training about Medicare, Medicaid, Medicare Advantage (an all-in-one alternative to the original Medicare program, known as Part C), Medigap (Medicare supplemental insurance), Medicare prescription drug coverage (Part D), appeals, fraud, abuse, and more.
“Volunteer counselors are the heart of the PA MEDI program, they expand the capacity of the program which would not thrive without them,” said Lynda Pickett, PCA’s community engagement assistant director of volunteer services. “Many volunteers [get] a rewarding feeling from helping beneficiaries navigate through issues regarding the transition to Medicare. Volunteers are a crucial resource for Medicare beneficiaries who may be confused regarding the multitude of options available to them and serve as an excellent example of how voluntary action can support everyday life.“
PA MEDI counselors can assist with plan comparisons, help enroll in a new plan and help determine eligibility for Pennsylvania’s Medicare cost-savings programs, including the Pharmaceutical Assistance Contract for the Elderly (PACE), Extra Help and Medicare Savings Program. Counselors make their evaluations based on a careful examination of each Medicare participant’s unique needs and recommend options that may be a good fit. By tapping into a community of mostly volunteer counselors, the program hopes to better accommodate the needs of Medicare beneficiaries for an unbiased approach that relies on personalized interactions.
“There is a lot of confusion out there that exists among Medicare beneficiaries when it comes to the money saving options available to them that they would not be aware of if not for the PA MEDI program,” said Deena Pollock, PA MEDI counselor at Einstein Medical Center. “Our ability to work individually and confidentially to determine their health care preferences has resulted in successfully meeting the health care needs of countless individuals. I have also seen circumstances in which Medicare beneficiaries save hundreds of dollars each month thanks to our comprehensive and personalized approach.”
Medicare-eligible beneficiaries in Philadelphia can schedule a PA MEDI counseling session by calling the following: Einstein Medical Center at 215-456-7600, and CARIE at 215-545-5728. Those calling for a PA MEDI program consultation are urged to have their Medicare card on hand prior to each scheduled counseling session. For more information, call the toll-free PA MEDI Helpline at 1-800-783-7067, weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Bill Conallen is the public relations specialist at Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.