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Nonprofits help expand Medicare awareness

MONTGOMERY — With Medicare open enrollment beginning November 15, healthcare groups around the state are working to help seniors understand the various choices available through the program. The Alabama Department of Senior Services and the State Health Insurance Assistance Program, known as SHIP, are partnering with local, regional, and statewide organizations to spread awareness of Medicare during the enrollment period.

In 2006, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which administers Medicare for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, ranked Alabama first in the Southeast and fourth nationally in the number of enrollees who signed up for the Medicare prescription drug program, known as Part D. The success of the Alabama campaign was achieved through the leadership of the Alabama Department of Senior Services and its SHIP program. By partnering with multiple organizations, SHIP was able to educate seniors about the choices available through the new prescription drug coverage program.

“Alabama is blessed with a multitude of caring, dedicated nonprofit organizations that provide necessary services to the communities they serve. By partnering with these groups, we are able to expand our available resources, disseminate information quickly, and reach larger numbers of people across the state,” said Commissioner Irene Collins, head of the Alabama Department of Senior Services.

One such partnership, with the Medicare Access Network, provides shared information on various member organizations’ efforts, collaboration on activities, and identifies ways to work together in order to more effectively maximize outreach and educational opportunities. The Medicare Access Network is comprised of local organizations dedicated to working together to create awareness and understanding of Medicare and its various parts. The Network was originally developed in 2005 and strongly adheres to federal regulations that prohibit steering individuals to particular plans or limited number of plans.

During this year’s open-enrollment period, SHIP and the Medicare Access Network are focusing on low-income and minority populations that are not getting the assistance available to them through Medicare, the Part D program, and the low-income subsidy, known as LIS.

LIS provides low-income individuals assistance in paying Medicare premiums and costs. According to a recently released survey, 60 percent of seniors were aware that extra help is available through LIS. However, nearly 40 percent of seniors with limited incomes that would likely qualify were not aware of the available help. The survey was paid for by a grant from pharmaceutical research companies and released by Medicare Today.

“Many of the seniors that could qualify for LIS are hard to reach through traditional means,” said Robyn James, Director of Alabama’s SHIP program. “As such, we are working with our local Area Agencies on Aging and nonprofit organizations to develop new strategies, build new relationships, and provide more opportunities for these seniors to obtain information about services that could improve their health conditions and save them money.”

The Medicare Today survey also showed that 90 percent of seniors are satisfied with the Medicare Part D program. Of the seniors surveyed, 70 percent said they have lowered the amount of money they spend under the program and 78 percent said they are better off than before the Medicare prescription programs were available.

Open enrollment for Medicare ends on Dec. 31. For more details call 800-AGELINE or go online to www.alabamaageline.gov.