Have you ever had questions about how to enroll in Medicare and which plan is right for you? Maybe claims or billing issues as an existing member?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, a Warren County volunteer with SHIIP may be able to help. And if you would like to learn more and have time to help others, you might be a candidate to become a SHIP volunteer yourself.
SHIIP (Senior Health Insurance Information Program) is designed to help people navigate what can be complex health insurance questions, explained Elodie Opstad, a long-time SHIP volunteer.
There are 330 volunteer SHIIP counselors in Iowa in 83 counties with four volunteers at the Warren County location. Due to the 20-year success in Warren County, two more volunteers need to be recruited by the end of May. People who enjoy complex, varied work and may already be retired and on Medicare, are the ideal candidates. Training will be provided.
“I had no idea how much I would really enjoy the work. It’s a phenomenal community service to give others,” said Opstad. “I knew nothing about Medicare when I started (volunteering). It’s totally different than private coverage. The Des Moines SHIIP office has paid staff that handle all our credentialing, training and on-going education.”
Opstad, who has a career background in healthcare administration, said every SHIIP volunteer brings different work and life experiences to the table.
She noted that not every person that calls needs an appointment to get their questions answered.
“Medicare is really confusing. It’s complex and it makes people nervous because they don’t want to do anything wrong or accumulate a lifetime penalty,” she said.
The Warren County branch helped more than 600 people last year.
SHIIP counselors assist with:
• Helping with enrollment and explaining coverage options
• Screening for Medicare assistance programs and helping with applications
• Resolving claim and billing issues
• Evaluating cost and coverage during Medicare’s annual open enrollment
• Identifying special enrollment options
• Figuring out how to cover costs of an expensive drug
• Educating how to avoid, identify and report Medicare fraud
Opstad added that last year, Iowa SHIIP saved clients $23.6 million.
SHIIP volunteers are busiest during Medicare open enrollment, which takes place every October 15 through December 7.
“During 2022’s open enrollment, we filed 454 client contact reports and saved Warren County residents $464,452,” she said. “Doing the math, that sounds like $1,000 per person, but there were highs and lows.
"During open enrollment, we explain the costs of the current plan as well as lower cost options, how the deductible is applied, if they will enter the coverage gap or donut hole, if they recover from that hole, provide strategies to avoid, also alternatives like GoodRx for medications Medicare doesn’t ‘like’ or plans don’t want to cover," Opstad continued.
Appointments with clients take an average of 45 minutes to one hour and 15 minutes.
“You schedule your availability. You’re not getting calls and having to leave something you’re doing,” she said. “We have a group calendar we use.”
She noted being a volunteer can be challenging, but rewarding.
“Being a SHIIP counselor is a game of strategy, because the rules don’t follow logic, likely because the rules are the result of years of legislative actions,” she said. “We also encounter people who maybe ignored their mail and are now in a bit of a bind with healthcare. We do our best to unwind all that and find them coverage or assistance.”
If you're interested in volunteering, call 515-962-5375. Leave a message with your contact information and a volunteer will be in touch.
To learn more, visit: SHIIP.Iowa.gov
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