Sunday, July 10, 2016

Medicare services in trouble; Local Office for the Aging urges residents to contact local representatives

Last week, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee voted to completely eliminate the $52.1 million in funding for the Medicare State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), more commonly referred to as Health Insurance Information Counseling Assistance Program (HIICAP) in New York, from the 2017 budget, which, if passed, can cause local Office for the Aging departments to cut or lose needed and popular services.

“A major program we have is the health insurance counseling, and if this funding is eliminated, we would losing the total funding,” said Melissa Blanar, director for the Orleans County Office for the Aging.

The money goes toward helping older adults navigate the options they have for Medicare and what the best option they have, choosing from more than 20 prescription drug plans, an average of 19 Medicare Advantage plans, not to mention the various Medigap supplemental insurance policies.

“In Orleans County, we have people who go to Buffalo, some go to Rochester, so we have to see what plan would work for them best,” Blanar said. “I don’t know if they’re going to expect us to pick up the slack somehow (if the funding gets eliminated) because people are going to continue to come to our door for that. That’s mostly what we see in our office; ‘I’m turning 65. I don’t know where to go.

I don’t know what to do. I’m not sure what my options are.’”

In 2012, the Orleans County Office of the Aging helped 568 people. In 2015, it helped 797 for health insurance needs.

Orleans County isn’t the only one who saw an increase over the three year span; Genesee County Office for the Aging saw a similar jump, servicing 1,346 people in 2012 and 5,400 in 2015.

“That program is the one of greatest demand in our agency, and the one growing over time, especially with the growing baby boomer population,” said Ruth Spink, director for the Genesee County Office for the Aging. “We don’t really understand why (the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee voted to eliminate the funding). It has been a program that has been pretty level funded for decades.”

All three counties offer the service for free, but ask for donations to help with costs. Spink also pointed out the Office for the Aging is the only place people can get unbiased information, and in the first six months of 2015, the Genesee Office of the Aging saved Genesee County residents $353,000 overall for those six months.

“We’re all scrambling as far as Office for the Aging to insure that money is kept there because should they cut funding, that really is attached to staff. You eliminate that funding, you’re going to eliminate services,” said Angie Milillo, deputy director for Wyoming County Office for the Aging. “With the baby boomers coming through, we’re just starting now to in the last five, seven, years or whatever just start hitting the baby boomers.”

Currently the U.S. House of Representatives haven’t voted on SHIP funding, and Office of the Aging urges local representatives United States Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and United States Congressman Chris Collins to not eliminate funding for SHIP in the 2017 fiscal year.

The Orleans County Legislature passed a resolution Wednesday afternoon requesting federal officials to instead increase funding for SHIP to $59.4 million, to keep pace with inflation and increasing needs among a growing Medicare population, or at a minimum, level funding of $52.1 million should be provided. The local Office for the Aging also urges residents to contact representatives to ask local representatives not to eliminate the funding.

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Medicare services in trouble; Local Office for the Aging urges residents to contact local representatives

1 comment:

StandUp said...

This article reminds us that we should all keep our local representatives in touch with what's going on. It's our duty as citizens.