Medicare counseling can help reduce your health insurance costs

Sun Sailor

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Guest Column by Deb Taylor

For older adults on Medicare and Baby Boomers about to sign up, the important fall Medicare open enrollment period runs Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 this year. It’s important to reevaluate your plans annually because coverage can change, and shopping around for the best Medicare and prescription Part D plans can save you money.

The Medicare Counseling program, operated by nonprofit Senior Community Services, routinely helps clients save amounts ranging from a few hundred dollars up to several thousand dollars annually on their health insurance costs. I remember one woman who wheeled in boxes of health information she received from insurance carriers when she turned 65 and said, “I’m overwhelmed, lighten my burden.” We were able to do that for her.

Of course, many people never think about Medicare until they’re about to retire because of the anxiety-producing complexities of the programs. Factor in the phone calls and mail from businesses pitching their own insurance products, and the consumer can be left confused and bewildered by the many available choices.

Medicare counseling enables you to ignore the telemarketer sales pitches; seniors and their families have an unbiased resource in Senior Community Services. Our Medicare counseling is available by phone for any Minnesota resident, and at 20 sites in Hennepin and Wright counties. Navigating Medicare community education classes also are held at public and corporate venues. Private counseling sessions can be arranged by scheduling.

The staff and team of highly trained volunteer counselors help seniors and caregivers find the most appropriate coverage from Medicare, Medicare supplements and Part D plans. The staff can even help resolve outstanding health insurance claims that pose a financial burden for many seniors.

Counselors help seniors weigh costs and identify the very best plan and supplemental plan – if one is needed – for them. Sometimes a plan will have a lower premium, but the copays may be a budget-buster. So a pricier premium may be cheaper in the long run if there are fewer copays. We can help the consumer figure out what’s best for them.

An increasing number of Minnesota’s low-income elderly are at risk of sliding down the slippery slope toward financial crisis. The problem is becoming critical for thousands of older Minnesotans whose income is between 100-200 percent of the Federal Poverty Index.

These are seniors who are on Medicare, do not qualify for Medicaid, and are frequently unable to pay the balance of their health care costs after Medicare has paid. They typically can’t afford supplemental insurance.

To make matters worse, many avoid seeking needed medical attention because of the costs and then end up using the emergency room or delay seeking treatment until they have to be hospitalized.

These Minnesota seniors, who meet certain eligibility requirements, can submit an application to Senior Community Services. Upon acceptance, seniors can utilize the Senior Partners Care program to have certain healthcare costs waived, thanks to agreements we have with hundreds of healthcare providers across Minnesota. These providers have agreed to consider a waiver of Medicare deductibles, coinsurance and copays.

It’s just another way Senior Community Services is helping the community Reimagine Aging for Minnesota’s increasingly aging population.

Deb Taylor is CEO of Senior Community Services ( and the Reimagine Aging Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for older adults and helps seniors and caregivers maintain their independence through free or low-cost services.