By Danna Downing
October is an important month for older adults and others who receive state and federal health benefits. This is the time to both initiate and make changes to current medical plans. You can do this between October 15 and December 7, 2021; any changes will take effect on January 1, 2022. If the idea of doing this is unnerving, it will be a big relief to know that there is expertise available to help close to home in Kalamazoo County.
The Kalamazoo County Area Agency on Aging IIIa (AAA) is home to the Michigan Medicare/Medicaid Assistance Program (MMAP—pronounced like the map in your glove compartment). It is a free service that educates, counsels and empowers Michigan’s older adults, persons living with disabilities, and their caregivers so they make informed health benefit decisions. With the passage of the Kalamazoo County Senior Millage in August of 2020, the program is poised to serve more older adults than ever. State and federal monies and resources also support the program.
At the core of the program is a team of 21 highly trained MMAP volunteers certified in Medicare and Medicaid benefits and fraud counseling. These volunteers attend monthly meetings with AAA MMAP coordinator, Miranda Pearson, LLMSW, to keep their skills up to date and to stay aligned with changes in benefit services. Counselors are not only well versed in health benefits, but are also unbiased and not connected with any insurance company or licensed to sell insurance products of any kind. Many are retired persons who usually have had experience in their careers that is of great benefit to those they serve. They are dedicated to helping others navigate benefit systems effectively.
These individuals are invaluable resource persons during the enrollment period to help older adults and their caregivers compare plans and understand current benefits to ensure they are picking a plan that meets their needs and budget. And even better, MMAP counselors can assist anytime during the year to help older adults review the Medicare summary notices they receive and understand how they interface with doctors’ and hospital bills that are received. If necessary, the MMAP counselor can assist with claims and appeals as well.
Many older adults are plagued with confusing calls about health benefits and can be targets for fraud and scams. If you have a concern like this, your MMAP counselor can be of service in helping you find peace of mind and confidence about how to handle such irritations. In addition, a MMAP counselor is very familiar with all the critical services that are offered at AAA. The agency offers many more resources to help older adults and others who need assistance with aging in place.
“Many older adults give us a call on an annual basis during open enrollment to update their health and prescriptions in the event that they need a different health benefit to meet their needs,” says Pearson, “and it is a great thing to do each fall.“ She adds that newly retired persons will want to start out working with their employer’s human resource department representatives and the follow up with MMAP if they have further questions.
South County residents are encouraged to call 269-649-2901 if they would like to work with someone who lives in South County and who is familiar with South County Community Services resources. A call to 269-373-5158 will help access any available counselor. MMAP counselors work across the county as needed. The MMAP website is located at https://www.kalcounty.com/hcs/sss/mmap.php.
This October is an especially key time to communicate with legislators about your needs for home and community-based services to support aging in place. Big decisions are currently being made about budgets that affect the quality of life for older adults and their caregivers in the state and in our nation.
Stay informed on the issues and contact your local senators and representatives if necessary.
LESSON TO SHARE:
Having the right resources makes life much easier and more rewarding.
By Danna Downing