Four volunteers educate public on Medicare

You?re nearing age 65 and you are bombarded with information about Medicare. How can you weed through it all to decide what?s official and what?s not so that you can choose the best health insurance for you?

In Jefferson County, you can turn to the free Senior Health Insurance Information Program, headed up by four volunteers: Judith Cox, Colleen Kimble, Linda Coats and Marcia Holsinger.

SHIIP volunteers advocate for, inform, educate and assist consumers on Medicare and related health insurance issues so they can make informed decisions and access resources to address their needs.

?People love us,? said Cox. ?We organize chaos into something they can understand.?

?We don?t sell, promote or endorse anything,? continued Holsinger. ?We just explain the options to help them pick out a plan that works best for them.?

The Iowa Insurance Division, in 1990, became one of the first states to start a senior health insurance counseling program. SHIIP started with a mission, one staff person and $50,000 appropriated by the Iowa Legislature. That one person developed a statewide network by recruiting sponsors who recruited volunteers to reach out and help senior health insurance consumers.

Cox started SHIIP at Jefferson County Hospital in 1998. And as she, Kimble, Coats and Holsinger each retired from their hospital jobs, they became SHIIP volunteers.

?We love helping people,? said Holsinger.

A SHIIP volunteer completes computer-based training, and attends three days of training in Des Moines through the SHIIP program of the Iowa Insurance Division. Then, each following year, he or she attends additional training to keep current on changes and updates to the Medicare system. A volunteer must take and pass an open book test every year to continue as a SHIIP volunteer.

A volunteer has a large reference book in a binder to help guide them through providing assistance, but extra help is just a phone call away.

?We have excellent trainers who can conference in and provide guidance,? said Coats.

SHIIP addresses many questions and problems of older Iowans related to health insurance, such as: Medicare Part A and B, Medicare Advantage plans, Medicare prescription drug coverage, Medicare supplement insurance, employer-based insurance, long-term care insurance, Medicare and insurance claims, Medicaid, other types of health insurance, insurance marketing and consumer protection.

?But it?s not just signing people up for Medicare,? pointed out Kimble.

?We can help people with their bills if they are wondering ?should I pay or not pay this,?? added Coates.

Kimble said if a Medicare recipient doesn?t understand why something is the way it is on their medical bill, SHIPP volunteers can help ?dig out? the problem, which sometimes can be as simple as a coding error.

?We?re real diggers,? added Cox, explaining the volunteers can also find financial help for some Medicare recipients.

Kimble said it is very important for people approaching 65 to sign up for Medicare during their appropriate sign-up window and to sign up for the correct programs so they do not end up being penalized for their decisions later.

?Medicare is an individual thing. There is no blanket that covers everyone,? Kimble said, adding that Medicare changes every year and she expects it to become more complicated.

One of the changes the four volunteers want Medicare clients to know is that all Medicare consumers will be getting new Medicare cards with new Medicare numbers this year.

?The first ones in Iowa are coming in June,? said Holsinger.

Holsinger said couples should not be alarmed when the wife and the husband do not receive their new cards at the same time. ?They are trying to outsmart the scammers by sending them out at different times,? she explained.

The four local volunteers kept busy helping about 600 people last year. Each of the women takes responsibility for one weekday to answer calls and meet with clients, so they are looking for at least one more volunteer.

Anyone who would like more information about volunteering can call 469-4308 and leave their name and number.

Anyone who would like to meet with a SHIIP volunteer also can call 469-4308 and leave their contact information.

General information about SHIIP also is available on its website at