By Erika Webb
Health insurance: It's what's for breakfast, lunch and dinner as food for thought in today's world.
Judy Hahn, a Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders program counselor, feeds people answers.
SHINE is a program offered by the state Department of Elder Affairs, in partnership with ElderSource of Northeast Florida, which provides educational materials and free unbiased insurance counseling to Florida's elderly and disabled, their caregivers and family members.
The goal is to help elders and the disabled understand and receive the health insurance coverage they need through Medicare, Medicaid, Prescription Assistance, Long-Term Care Planning and Insurance, and assist with other health care issues.
Ms. Hahn travels throughout Volusia County each week to counsel people with questions about Medicare coverage options and billing.
In many cases, she eases despair.
"They're stressed out and confused," Ms. Hahn said. "They're almost paralyzed because they can't figure out what to do."
The retired supervisor for the state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation said she was looking for a post-career opportunity to serve when she discovered the opportunity to volunteer for SHINE.
"My second thought for a career was working with the elderly," Ms. Hahn said. "I saw an ad in the paper for volunteers, so I knew that's exactly what I wanted to do. Now that they do work with disability people coming into Social Security and Medicare, I knew I was also able to help with that because I knew a lot about that, too."
She said the system is experiencing an influx of baby boomers. While most are familiar with computers, Ms. Hahn said many are confused by the process.
"It's a lot to deal with all at one time," she said.
The question she's asked most frequently is, "How do I make a choice?"
"The first choice is: Do they want to use original Medicare, what everyone started off with -- Parts A and B? And now we have Part D, drug meds," she explained. "If they can afford it they should have a supplement. If they only have A and B, they're on the hook -- out of pocket -- for 20 percent of anything A and B cover."
That's where extensive training and a thorough knowledge of the system come in.
"Part C, the Health Advantage Plan with HMOs and PPOs has a drug component as well," Ms. Hahn said. "Ordinarily, you've got parts A, B and D wrapped up into one package with C."
Medicare recipients must pay for Part B, regardless, at a monthly cost of $104.90, but Ms. Hahn said with some supplemental plans the insured may get a portion of that back.
"You have to understand the HMOs and PPOs have limitations, mostly what doctors you can go to, but some HMOs and PPOs are nationwide so you have a very nice network of doctors," she said. "If you're looking for a more economical way out of things sometimes the Advantage Plans are better."
Ultimately, Ms. Hahn said, the best choice is personal and determined by comparing coverage and comparing price.
"We don't make your decisions for you. We're counselors not tellers," she said laughing.
Renee Knight is director of communications for ElderSource, a private, not- for-profit agency that is part of a nationwide network of more than 650 Area Agencies on Aging.
She said volunteers like Ms. Hahn are well-trained to provide the free, unbiased and confidential aid the 20-year program offers.
"It's amazing what they go through, the amount of specialized training, to be able to provide all of the information," Ms. Knight said.
Established in 1976 as an Area Agency on Aging, ElderSource was recently designated as an Aging and Aging Disability Resource Center.
"It's a long name but we want to make sure disabled folks feel comfortable calling our helpline (as well)," Ms. Knight said.
Telephone counseling is another option for those in need and it is being heavily utilized.
"We have seen increased use with recent times," Ms. Knight said. "People are looking at prescriptions and changing plans. A lot are calling in regard to that."
"We also participate in local -- county and community -- events," Ms. Knight added.
Ms. Hahn said a record 66 people showed up to last month's presentation at City Island Library in Daytona Beach.
"There are usually a lot during open enrollment," she said "but not this time of year."
Aside from providing coverage information and answering questions like, "How long do I have to enroll in Medicare?", Ms. Hahn said she helps with billing grievances and appeals.
"One lady thought she didn't owe for ambulance service," Ms. Hahn said. "Turns out she didn't and that bill was $700."
Her time and her heart go to those who have "nobody else to call."
"You can call Medicare, but that takes a lot of time on the phone and all," Ms. Hahn said.
Some questions have easy answers, but other situations will require a face to face meeting, she added. So she returns calls, assesses the need and either answers the question then and there or arranges to meet with individuals to discuss their issues.
She is genuinely excited when she talks about people saving money.
"My volunteer friend in New Smyrna Beach was able to help a couple save $8,000 a year for insurance," Ms. Hahn said. "He found them a better way to go with Medicare Advantage and saved them a lot of money out of pocket. Who wouldn't want $8,000 in their pocket?"
For more information about SHINE, visit www.myeldersource.org or call the ADRC helpline at (888) 242-4464.
To meet with Ms. Hahn or another volunteer visit one of the following locations:
Monday: Chisholm Center, 350 S. Clara Ave., DeLand, 12-3 p.m.
Tuesday: Ormond Beach Senior Center, 351 Andrews St., 1-3 p.m.
Wednesday: Department of Elder Affairs, 210 N. Palmetto Ave., Suite 408, Daytona Beach, 9-11 a.m.
Thursday: Alternating weekly between the Council on Aging 160 N. Beach St. Daytona Beach; 1-3 p.m. and Aging Tree 985 Harley Strickland Blvd., Suite 100, Orange City; 1-3 p.m.
Friday: Brannon Center 105 S. Riverside Dr., New Smyrna Beach, 12-3 p.m.