Homer Alaska - Business

Story last updated at 3:24 PM on Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Questions about Medicare? Experts are standing by

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer


Photographer: McKibben Jackinsky, Homer News

Emiley Sue Faris, local Medicare counselor in Homer, and Judith Bendersky of the Medicare Information Office in Anchorage answered questions about Medicare during a workshop at the Homer Senior Center on Aug. 22.

The state Medicare guru plus one of two local certified Medicare counselors met with the members of the public Aug. 22 in a two-hour workshop designed to explain a program filled with made-to-fit variables.

"Medicare has a lot of options for people depending upon their specific situation, age, their work status and their spousal benefits," said Judith Bendersky, health program manager based in the Medicare Information Office in Anchorage. "There are many myths floating around and not everything is true for everybody because the health insurance options are individualized. Each person really needs to speak to a Medicare counselor that understands their unique situation."

For instance, a Homer Electric Association retiree has a different situation than a retiring federal employee than a fisherman who has never had health insurance and has a very low income, Bendersky pointed out.

"Everybody's situation is different," she said.

Emiley Sue Faris, a four-year certified Medicare counselor with SVT Health and Wellness, is called upon frequently to answer questions about Medicare.

"Almost every day people say, 'I'm so confused, I don't know what to do.' I get that more than anything. Or they're getting ready to retire and want to know when to sign up," said Faris, urging the public to "call me and we'll talk about it."

"Everyday it's a different person, a different need and a different answer, No one person has the same situation," said Faris, who will be giving a presentation on Medicare at the Anchor Point Senior Center at 2 p.m. Sept. 26.

Medicare is a health insurance program administered by the U.S. federal government for people age 65 or older, people under 65 with certain disabilities or people of any age with end-stage renal disease, permanent kidney failure that requires dialysis or a kidney transplant. The program is divided into four parts:

• Part A: hospital insurance;

• Part B: medical insurance;

• Part C: Medicare Advance Plans, like HMOs, are health plans run by Medicare-approved private insurance companies;

• Part D: prescription drug coverage.

In the state of Alaska, 68,000 people are enrolled in Medicare, 80 percent of them in the 65-or-older age category. In the Kenai Peninsula Borough, 8,000 individuals are in the Medicare program.

"The needle is constantly moving," said Bendersky of providing current statistics.

Patti Boily of the Independent Living Center also is a certified Medicare counselor. Like Bendersky and Faris, she pointed to the program's many variables, making it important for individuals to ask questions in order to understand how the program can meet their needs.

"People who don't understand tend to disparage Medicare, but it is actually a really good program," said Boily.

Not understanding the program can sometimes prove costly. For instance, those nearing 65 years of age have a seven-month initial enrollment period: three months before their birth month, their birth month and three months after. If that time period is missed, the next opportunity to enroll in Parts A and B would be Jan. 1-March 31 of each year. Missing enrollment periods may result in penalties. For Part D, there is an annual open enrollment between Oct. 15-Dec. 7, with a notice of changes to that part — changes to prescriptions, premiums, co-payments, deductibles, etc. — distributed the end of September.

"It's important to get the facts and really start investigating Medicare and Social Security a few months before turning 65," said Bendersky.

"When in doubt, call up and talk to a live person. We are happy to counsel by phone. All questions are good questions. There are no dumb questions."

For more information about Medicare, contact:

• Bendersky at (907) 269-3669 or email judith.bendersky@alaska.gov;

• Faris at 435-3232;

• Boily at 235-7911 or at the Homer Senior Center from 12:30-1:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month;

• Medicare Information Office in Anchorage, (907) 269-3680;

• Medicare Information Office in Alaska at (800) 478-6065;

• Visit www.medicare.gov.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.