As the Baby Boomer generation ages and starts to access the complicated system of Medicare at age 65, a countywide agency is expanding to help them through the process.
"It is a very useful tool for anybody who isn't an insurance expert. The rest of us need help with it," said Rossmoor resident Gilbert Doubet of Contra Costa County's Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program.
This summer, HICAP is adding three additional sites to serve East County residents. In addition to offering counseling on Medicare benefit plans and coverage at the Brentwood, Pittsburg and Antioch senior centers, HICAP also will provide programs at the Antioch Public Library, Sutter Delta Medical Center in Antioch and John Muir Medical Center in Brentwood.
"With the Baby Boomers, there is a greater demand for services," HICAP consultant Pam Brown said. "The need is growing, and a lot of retirees are moving out to East County."
Through Welcome to Medicare classes, events and one-on-one counseling, the free service is offered to seniors on Medicare and their caretakers or families. Every state and county has a federally funded HICAP program to help Medicare beneficiaries make choices regarding their plan options and resolve issues with unpaid claims or denials.
"We are helping to resolve problems," said Brown of the program's advocacy component.
At least 2,600 people were served by Contra Costa's HICAP last year, and with that support, they
According to Doubet, the financial savings from HICAP are especially noticeable with low-income seniors who don't qualify for supplemental medical care and are living on fixed incomes. With 33 prescription drug plans to chose from, Medicare options can be overwhelming to seniors, Doubet noted.
"It is important to find the right drug plan on a yearly basis. They change yearly, just like tax laws," he said. "You need someone who stays up on it. They (HICAP) are brilliant hand holders."
The volunteer counselors are detail-oriented, able to retain a lot of information and good at research, and come from former careers in the law, engineering, human resources and the medical field, according to program manager Ruth Atkin. Atkin said some are bilingual.
"You develop a specialized field of knowledge," she said of the extensive volunteer training.
The grass roots consumer information program is increasing its trained counselors by 50 percent this summer, and it is starting outreach to seniors countywide.
"The seniors are so appreciative," said Atkin. "They are so grateful."
For more information about HICAP, go to www.cchicap.org or call 925-602-4163.