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The times they are a changin’
By Margie Ware
If you are not a baby boomer, then you are probably tired of hearing about how the baby boomers are going to overwhelm the healthcare system, the Medicare system, the Social Security system and the SHINE (Serving the Health Information Needs of Elders) counselors. But if you work in one of these systems, it is becoming obvious that changes will have to be made to accommodate the numbers of individuals who will need to be assisted with information about retirement and healthcare.
Elder Services’ SHINE Program has begun to plan for this new environment. We are now in the third year of presenting “pre-retirement” seminars to groups of people who are about to become eligible for Medicare. The seminars give us a way to give information in an efficient way so that individual counseling sessions don’t have to begin “from scratch.” In the very near future, we may need to hold these meetings more than once a year to accommodate the increased demand.
But that’s just the beginning. At a recent meeting in Chicago, Medicare officials admitted that it’s probably time for them to consider making the cards plastic rather than cardboard. They are increasingly allowing people to do simple procedures totally over the internet. You can sign up for Medicare Part A without going to the Social Security office. You can also sign up for Social Security benefits online as long as you were born in this country and the information you enter matches the Social Security Administration's records.
One of the real questions is whether any aspects of “social networking” will be appropriate for counseling purposes. Are the new beneficiaries going to be looking for information on Facebook or through Twitter? Will we have to adjust our volunteer training to use more online and video training to accommodate those who cannot take time during the work day, but still want to volunteer? And what about the name? The national network of health insurance counseling programs is designated as SHIPs – State Health Insurance Programs. The word Medicare doesn’t appear. How “user-friendly” is this acronym if a consumer is trying to discern where she or he should go to get information about health insurance and public benefits.
With the advent of Health Care Reform, one of the most intriguing questions is whether the SHIP network will be an integral part of the effort to provide health insurance coverage to all Americans. In Massachusetts, we are fortunate that an infrastructure is already in place for individuals of all ages to receive information about health insurance choices. SHINE currently serves a wide variety of consumers, since not all Medicare beneficiaries are over 65. Health Care Reform may require that SHIPs expand their offerings to anyone who needs information on healthcare since that network is already in place to provide accurate and unbiased information on healthcare choices.
“May you live in interesting times” could be the motto of the SHINE Program as we welcome a whole new generation of well-educated, perhaps skeptical, consumers. Stay tuned as we gear up to maintain quality while dealing with many more inquiries. In the meantime, please contact Elder Services’ SHINE Program at 499- 0524 or 1-800-544-5242 with any questions or any information you may require.
Margie Ware is Elder Services’ Regional SHINE Program Coordinator.