Special Experienced Adults Edition: SHIIP counselors help local seniors navigate daunting Medicare choices

By Roz Weis,

Local SHIIP counselors met recently at WinnMed in Decorah. Pictured (l-r): Jim Sims, Roger Huinker, Julie Ohde and Karen McLean. (Driftless Multimedia photo by Roz Weis)

Those nearing age 65 are bombarded with large, official-looking mailings and telephone calls about signing up for Medicare. The choices can be daunting, but there are counselors available to help seniors, their families and caregivers. 

The goal of WinnMed’s State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIIP) is just that: helping seniors weave their way through the often-confusing part of signing up for Medicare. The service helps people understand and manage their Medicare coverage. The free, objective, confidential, unbiased counseling is available in-person, via Zoom virtually or by telephone.

Last year, local SHIIP counselors estimated they assisted more than 500 people… and that is a conservative estimate.

One local senior stated, “We couldn’t have made the decisions without the help they gave explaining the plans.”

Busy open enrollment season

Counselors are entering their busiest time of year now, with the Medicare’s “open enrollment period” from October to December.

Individuals 65 years of age and older can change their plans between Oct. 15 and Dec. 7. Every year, people who qualify for Medicare health coverage have a chance to change their health plan if they find a different one with a better price or more coverage. It is an important opportunity because, while an individual’s present Medicare plan may seem the best choice now, health insurance companies can change what they will cover and how much seniors have to pay every year. Starting Jan. 1, the medical procedures, doctors and/or prescription medicines they will pay for, and the premiums and deductibles may be different.

During the busy enrollment period, people can join, switch or drop a Medicare plan for coverage that starts in January 2024.

The next in-person SHIIP education session to assist local seniors is slated for Tuesday, Oct. 3, in Decorah. Pre-registration is encouraged by contacting SHIIP Site Coordinator Karla Bakken at her WinnMed office.

SHIIP volunteers at WinnMed in Decorah

Four local counselors have completed the extensive training required to become SHIIP counselors in the Decorah area: Jim Sims, a 10-year veteran counselor; Roger Huinker, who is new to the program; Julie Ohde, a two-year counselor;  and Karen McLean, now in her fourth year with SHIIP.

The counselors agree that it’s easy to get confused or overwhelmed with so many choices, and it’s often troublesome getting a clear answer. But they encourage seniors to never give up and to reach out for help.

Program history

The SHIIP program through the State of Iowa provides free informational materials as well as one-to-one assistance with the following:

• Medicare coverage (The counselors can check a client’s current Part D or Medicare Advantage plan to make sure drugs are covered at the lowest cost and with the least amount of restrictions)

• Medicare supplement insurance

• Medicare Part D assistance and enrollment (prescription insurance)

• Long-term care insurance

• Medicare and insurance claims

• Other related issues

Counselors remind clients that SHIIP does not endorse insurance companies, plans or agents; they only answer questions and provide impartial information to help seniors make well-informed decisions.

Scheduling a SHIIP appointment

SHIIP volunteers are available by appointment only at WinnMed in Decorah by calling 563-387-3036. Appointments are conducted via phone call, Zoom or in person. Bring current insurance card(s) and a list of current medications to the appointment.

Finding the SHIIP office

WinnMed provides office space for the SHIIP program. For simple access to the SHIIP office, on the day of the appointment park in Parking Lot E on the east side of the WinnMed campus. When approaching door E-1, ring the doorbell. E-1 door is locked 24/7 and a member of the staff will assist.

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