Elderly counseled on health benefits Program addresses coverage fears

May 12, 1993|By Amy P. Ingram | Amy P. Ingram,Contributing Writer

At age 65, Bill O'Reilly says he's comfortable with his health care coverage. But many of his fellow seniors aren't, which is why the Maryland City resident makes the trip to Glen Burnie's Pascal Senior Center every week.

Mr. O'Reilly is a volunteer counselor who helps people facing health insurance woes. He and 18 other counselors are part of a county Department of Aging initiative called Health Insurance Counseling Assistance Program.

"When we get into medical care, it gets a little hairy," he said. "Many people are turning 65 and don't know what to do. I'm here to help them understand what they're paying and what kind of coverage they have."

The program grew out of a survey of about 600 county seniors two years ago. Trish McGarty, who coordinated the study, found that health insurance is a major worry for those over 65. As a result, a pilot counseling program was set up at the Pascal center. Two years later, counseling is offered at every senior center in the county.

"There's a lot of very positive work to be done," Ms. McGarty said. "It's such a very rewarding program and so very needed. What's more important to an older person than health care coverage?"

Frank Ciaravella of Glen Burnie, 68, another volunteer counselor, said he wanted to help his fellow seniors because "I've been in the finance field all my life, and I know that if health care is causing me problems, imagine how it is for others."

At a training seminar in Annapolis yesterday, Katherine Pokrzywa, of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, versed the volunteers in Medicaid. She also discussed burial plans, Social Security and those people who fall between the cracks of health care coverage.

Mr. O'Reilly, who counseled more than 40 seniors in his "pilot program days," said many women approached him because they'd lost a spouse and didn't know how to handle their health care, or even what health care coverage they had. He says several widows he counseled were wasting money by being over-insured.

"I strongly advocate the husband and wife learning about health insurance together," he said. "Both spouses have to be involved."

Mr. O'Reilly and Mr. Ciaravella counsel for free each week by appointment. All volunteers are trained to handle questions on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and carry a list of quick references for additional help.

"We're not lawyers, but we can at least find the problem," Mr. Ciaravella said.

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