Counselors offer help with bureaucracy

NAVIGATING THE HEALTH-CARE MAZE

November 17, 1993|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Contributing Writer

Savage residents Florence Hall, 81, and Gerry Watts, 70, recently found themselves discussing a topic of concern to many senior citizens: health care.

"We were in the beauty shop and Florence was telling me about her medical costs. I couldn't believe that she had to pay so much for her medication," said Mrs. Watts.

On Monday, the two friends were at Southeastern Health Center for the opening of the seventh and latest counseling site in the county for senior citizens who have questions about health insurance.

Called the Senior Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program, the 6-year-old service is sponsored by the county's Office on Aging and is part of a statewide network that includes counseling centers in 15 counties.

The program provides counselors once a month to answer questions and help solve problems involving Medicare, delays on health claims, the selection of supplemental health insurance and other issues.

The monthly, three-hour meetings also include presentations on health care topics, including supplemental health insurance and Medicare fraud and abuse.

At the Southeastern Health Center's opening session earlier this week, Ena Pajardo, coordinator of the Medicare Beneficiary Outreach Program of the Maryland Medicare division, talked with a pair of clients about Medicare.

Also in attendance were Jeanette Krapcho, coordinator of the county's senior citizen health insurance counseling program, and Emma Diamond, a volunteer counselor who has three years of experience with that program.

Mrs. Krapcho said that many seniors need help in wending their way through the health care bureaucracy.

"For many seniors, it's a matter of not being able to handle the paperwork, either because of health reasons, or because their spouse, who had always taken care of the paperwork, died," said Mrs. Krapcho. "Our goal is . . . to ultimately empower seniors to do it themselves."

To help avoid paperwork problems, Mrs. Diamond advises clients to keep all of their bills together and to save all insurance benefit statements.

Mrs. Diamond and other counselors then will work directly with those documents to untangle insurance snags.

Another common problem among clients is the tendency to pay bills immediately, rather than establishing what costs are being covered by insurance before paying the bills, Mrs. Diamond said.

The counseling program has been popular among seniors, Mrs. Krapcho said.

She noted that from July 1992 through June 1993, the centers scheduled 567 counseling sessions.

Since April of this year alone, 132 people have received counseling.

She also estimated that the program, which includes 20 counselors, saves seniors a total of between $8,000 and $9,000 per quarter in health care costs.

"I think [the program] is a very vital service for seniors," Mrs. Krapcho said.

"They are paying for their insurance coverage and Medicare, and it needs to be used for them; they shouldn't be paying out of their pockets."

For more information on the health insurance counseling program or to schedule an appointment, seniors can call the county's Office on Aging at 313-7212, or text telephone, 313-7214.

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