Weather Forecast


Cutting through the confusion: Volunteers help seniors choose right drug plan

It's decision time for seniors.

Starting Jan. 1, all Medicare recipients in the U.S. will have access to prescription drug insurance coverage, regardless of income, health status, or amount of drug usage.

For a monthly premium, this program, known as Medicare Part D, will typically pay over half of a participant's prescription drug costs. Enrollment is voluntary, but choosing not to enroll when first eligible may mean paying higher premiums later.

A wide variety of coverage options will be available, depending on individual need.

Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? The problem lies in the fact that finding the right coverage to fit your personal prescription drug needs can be a complicated process.

The good news is, you don't have to figure it out on your own. Several local organizations are offering one-on-one, step-by-step assistance with the enrollment process.

For all Medicare recipients, free help is now available through Mahube Community Council, St. Mary's Regional Health Center, and parish nurses at First Lutheran, Cormorant Lutheran, Holy Rosary and Detroit Lakes United Methodist churches. Becker County Coordinator on Aging Judy Peterson also provides assistance as needed.

"We're very fortunate in Becker County to have this type of coordinated effort," said Peterson. "All of these groups offer one-on-one assistance."

Trained volunteers from the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) will provide one-on-one assistance with Medicare Part D on Tuesdays and Thursdays, at the Mahube offices in Detroit Lakes.

"Our volunteers have been trained by Judy (Peterson) to help folks one on one with the computer (enrollment process)," said John Haack, Mahube's RSVP director.

Medicare's web site offers comprehensive information on the different coverage options available. But many seniors either don't have computer access, or don't have the necessary training to be able to complete the enrollment process on their own, Peterson explained.

The RSVP volunteers are trained to use Medicare's online web site to assist anyone who is currently enrolled in Medicare Part A and B with getting information about Part D and completing the enrollment process.

"It is a complex program to talk about, and write about -- we just want to make it simpler," said RSVP volunteer Paul Stary.

"A lot of our clients are the adult children of seniors who are trying to help their parents (to enroll)," added fellow volunteer Mike Wammer.

The eight RSVP volunteers who work with the Medicare Part D assistance program also get together about once every two weeks for updates and additional information.

"It is a very complex program," Peterson said. "You cannot learn it all in one training session."

"Especially with the memories that some of us old folks have," joked Wammer.

Peterson said she decided to use RSVP volunteers for the program because Mahube already had most of the necessary elements in place for offering Medicare Part D assistance -- computer access, confidentiality, handicap accessibility, and most importantly, the volunteers.

"We couldn't do this without them," Peterson said.

So why volunteer for this project?

"Most of us just like to help people, I guess," said volunteer Hal O'Connor.

"For me, part of it was also to help me understand the (Medicare Part D) program myself," Stary added.

St. Mary's RHC offers a similar program on Wednesdays from 5:30-9 p.m. Medicare participants can access information about Medicare Part D's various prescription drug coverage plans at the St. Mary's computer lab, and enroll online if they so choose. Like Mahube's program, St. Mary's also offers trained staff to assist with navigating the Medicare web site.

Parish nurses at a handful of local churches (listed above) are also offering one-on-one Part D assistance, Peterson noted.

Though assistance is available at Mahube from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, it is by appointment only, Haack noted.

"You need to call and make an appointment first," he said.

Similar sessions will be offered in Mahnomen and Hubbard counties (which Mahube also serves) as well, Haack added.

To schedule an appointment at Mahube, or reserve space at the St. Mary's computer lab, contact Mahube Community Council at 847-1385 (toll free at 1-888-458-1385l) or Patti Cummins at St. Mary's RHC, 847-0820.

Peterson will also be offering one-on-one assistance at her office in Emmanuel Nursing Home. Call 844-7140 or 1-800-939-3046 for an appointment.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454