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Are You Pinching Pennies to Pay for Health Care? Help is Available.

Many people associate the idea of retirement with golf, travel, wintering in Florida and other leisurely pursuits. But for millions of older adults living on a fixed income, the reality of life in retirement looks much different. All too often they’re forced to make tough choices to manage daily expenses, with those choices sometimes compromising their health. Skipping meals to save money is one example. Missing doctor appointments because of a lack of transportation is another.

That’s why it’s so important for older adults and others enrolled in Medicare to be aware that programs and services are available to help them manage their expenses. And it’s also why UnitedHealthcare offers the My Advocate® program to its members – to address the factors that can impact their health beyond the care they receive from their doctors, such as their financial stability, the safety and security of their living conditions, and their access to transportation and nutritious food.

Kim Sherman has served as a My Advocate representative for seven years. She helps people who are enrolled in Medicare stretch their budget by educating them about programs that can help them save money on out-of-pocket health care costs, determines whether they qualify and helps them apply for the programs.

 

We sat down with Kim and asked her to share some insights about these important programs.

What is the My Advocate program, and how do you help Medicare enrollees?
Kim:
We help people enrolled in Medicare plans apply for the Medicare Savings Program (MSP) and Extra Help. MSP provides assistance paying the Medicare Part B premium, deductible and other out-of-pocket costs not covered under Medicare. The Extra Help program lowers deductibles and copayments people pay for their prescription drugs under Part D. We also match people with community-based services and programs provided by their county. Those programs provide assistance with things like utility bills, transportation, housing and access to food.

How do people apply for MSP and Extra Help?
Kim:
After we do an initial screening process to see if they meet the financial requirements, we can help them enroll. It takes about 10 minutes to complete the Extra Help application online. For MSP, it takes longer because the member has to gather and sign documents. So, we do the screening and then a case coordinator works with the member to complete the application process.

How do people know you’re not trying to scam them?
Kim:
That’s a big concern for us because we know there are people out there who are trying to scam older consumers. I always give them my name and contact number and encourage them to call their health plan to confirm we’re on the up-and-up. About nine out of 10 people will call me back to continue the application process.

What’s one thing you wished more people understood about these programs?
Kim:
Once people understand how the program works, they are excited about it. I also explain that they are entitled to the help under Medicare. By signing up for the program, they aren’t taking it away from someone else. More people should find out if they’re eligible. The way costs change, you might not need the savings today, but they may come in handy later.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
Kim:
Being here for people, whether they are eligible for the programs or not. At some point in our life, we all need help. Sometimes it’s saving money on premiums and prescription drugs. For others, it’s about finding community services. On average, I’m able to enroll about 20 people a day, and then there are about 10 that aren’t eligible. Either way, it’s an honor to work with them and to be here for them, and I want them to have the best experience possible.

Want to know if you’re eligible for the Medicare Savings Program or Extra Help? 

  • Get more information on the Medicare Savings Program at Medicare.gov or National Council on Aging.
  • Get more information on Extra Help at Social Security or National Council on Aging.
  • If you’re enrolled in a UnitedHealthcare Medicare plan, call the number on your health plan ID card and let the Customer Care advocate know that you’re interested in applying for the Medicare Savings Program and Extra Help. He or she can connect you with a My Advocate representative.
  • Representatives from Medicare and your local State Health Insurance Assistance Program can also offer assistance. Call 1-800-MEDICARE (TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048; 24 hours a day/7 days a week) or look up contact information for your local SHIP here.

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Plans are insured through UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company or one of its affiliated companies, a Medicare Advantage organization with a Medicare contract and a Medicare approved Part D sponsor. Enrollment in these plans depends on the plan’s contract renewal with Medicare.

My Advocate is a trademark of Change Healthcare, LLC, and/or its subsidiaries.

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