Community corner: Medicare 101

By Drew Johnson

Open enrollment is upon us! I sat down with Miranda Pearson from the Area Agency on Aging in Kalamazoo the other day to talk all things Medicare and open enrollment. She runs AAA’s MMAP program. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation:

So, Miranda, what does MMAP actually stand for?

MMAP is the Michigan Medicare Assistance Program. The MMAP program is two federally funded programs combined, the State Health Insurance Program (SHIP) and the Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP). Both programs are nationwide, but most of them are not housed together.

And what is the MMAP program?

The MMAP program is a national program that has the goal of helping Medicare beneficiaries navigate the complexities of Medicare. The Kalamazoo MMAP program is housed within our local Area Agency on Aging. Our counselors, who are mainly volunteers, go through extensive Medicare training to become MMAP certified. The MMAP program is a free and unbiased nationwide program to help older adults and people with disabilities navigate Medicare and Medicaid. Our goal is to be the go-to place to call for any questions, big or small, about Medicare. Whether you’re taking a look at their current coverage, reporting a Medicare scam, or overwhelmed about any Medicare or Medicaid letters in the mail, give us a call!

Our counselor will also meet with people one-on-one to go over their individual insurance and medical needs. Our counselors take a person-centered approach and will review all of their information-prescriptions, physician networks, and budget to find a plan that works best for them. We are not affiliated with any insurance companies, so we are able to discuss all the available Medicare plan options, from Advantage plans to MI Health Link and Special Needs Plans. In addition to Medicare navigation, we also assist with screening and enrolling beneficiaries in additional assistance programs like Extra Help, Medicare Savings Program, and Medicaid and know about other resources in the community such as prescription assistance programs – things that an insurance agent might not be able to do. Anyone interested can call us at 269-373-5158.

Open enrollment has already started—it goes until December 7. What do people need to be thinking about during this period?

Open enrollment is the time when it is easiest to change your plan or enroll in a new plan. It’s possible to change plans outside of open enrollment, but only if you have a special enrollment period. Because of that, this is a good time to look at your current plan and make sure that your plan is working for you at the lowest price. Each year insurance providers are tinkering with their plans to adjust the price of the coverage or add additional benefits for next year’s plan, so open enrollment is a good time to see what your coverage will look like next year and make sure that it’s the plan you want to stay on.

You are going to give a presentation here at South County Community Services on Medicare and the MMAP program on November 15th at 1 p.m. What information will you be providing?

I generally go over the basics of Medicare and associated costs, discuss the differences between advantage and supplemental plans, and talk about how to enroll in each. We also talk about Medicare scams and how to avoid them [interviewer’s note: call MMAP if you are concerned about anything from a TV commercial, phone call or mail, that looks scammy!]

Is there anything else you want to say?

Just that I’m looking forward to a good group on November 15! Please call Brian at SCCS (649-2901) to register so that we know how many are coming, but don’t let it stop you from coming if you forget!

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