JoCo on the Go Podcast: Navigating Medicare open enrollment

On JoCo on the Go, episode #110, Medicare open enrollment is here. Although the process can be complicated, Johnson County K-State Research and Extension is here to help – offering residents a free service, where they can sit down with a trained Medicare expert who will help program participants navigate the enrollment process and even review medications and more to look for cost savings. Sometimes those cost savings can be in the thousands of dollars.

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Time Subject
00:24 Introduction
01:00 What is Medicare and who qualifies for it?
01:50 How K-State Research and Extension office can help
03:52 Changes for Medicaid this year
07:33 What kind of cost savings are available?
12:16 How to learn more about the process


Theresa Freed  00:00

Medicare enrollment can seem a bit complicated on this episode find out how you can get help with the process right here in Johnson County and it could translate into big savings.

Announcer  00:11

Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Theresa Freed  00:24

Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go, I'm your host Theresa Freed, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County government. Medicare open enrollment just got underway on Friday, October 15. That's also in the Johnson County Research and Extension Office opened its doors to help residents with Medicare enrollment. But it's not just helping residents get enrolled. The office is also helping people make informed decisions by providing plenty of education opportunities on Medicare. And here to talk more about that as Denise Dias family and consumer science agent at K-State research and extension. Thanks for being here.

Denise Dias  00:58

Thank you for having me today, Theresa.

Theresa Freed  01:00

Well, first off, let's just talk a little bit about what Medicare is because it doesn't necessarily impact everybody. So everyone might not realize who qualifies for it. Can you talk about that?

Denise Dias  01:10

Sure. Medicare, of course, is a federal health insurance program. It's designed for people 65 and older, or people that have a disability. And then the third option could be someone that has end-stage renal failure. So those groups of people can actually qualify for Medicare.

Theresa Freed  01:31

That's a pretty large chunk of Johnson County population, I'm sure right.

Denise Dias  01:36

Yes, it's it is a large chunk of the population about 20%, roughly, of people in our county that do qualify for Medicare help or Medicare health. So.

Theresa Freed  01:50

And can you talk a little bit about how K-State Research and Extension got involved in in helping with Medicare enrollment and kind of what your role is,

Denise Dias  01:59

Right. So the past few years, when I moved to Johnson County, I realized there wasn't a lot of education for older adults on this topic, and that many adults, you know, older adults that were getting close to 65, or maybe they were ready to retire, and, you know, leave the workforce, they just had a lot of questions about what were their options, what's going to save them the most money, what makes the most sense for what their healthcare needs currently are. So that was the reasoning behind starting a Medicare program here in Johnson County. So I'm actually affiliated with the Area Agency in Ottawa, they oversee our SHICK program here in Johnson County. SHICK stands for senior health insurance counseling for Kansas, all the SHICK volunteers that we do have in the county, we have about 20. Now, that's something that I've helped to, to work on growing for our county, as well. But all of the counselors, myself included, have been trained by the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services, we have to go through training with Medicare. And so there's, you know, online training, there's in person training, and that has to be maintained every year, in order to keep up with all of the changes that Medicare does. So it's a constant moving target, is what I like to say, I've worked with Medicare, this area for about 11 or 12 years now. And yeah, it's never been the same year twice, believe me.

Theresa Freed  03:52

And so what kind of changes can people expect for this year?

Denise Dias  03:55

Right. So with open enrollment, a lot of people look at either their Advantage plan or their prescription drug coverage, Part D, as it's often called, we have a lot, I mean, a lot of plans that are not being offered again, for 2022. Or if they are keeping those people in a plan, they're moving them to one that is much more expensive. So you know, instead of $20 a month, they could be automatically moved into a plan that costs like $65 a month. So I mean, it's definitely a time when you need to look and see what kind of, you know, prescriptions you currently take, but also how can you save the most money on that health care piece too.

Theresa Freed  04:45

And so some people too might not realize that there are options like just getting enrolled doesn't mean that you have to stay in a particular plan. So how do you help educate residents about what their options are? What are you Looking at?

Denise Dias  05:01

So when I work with a resident, many times, I'll do it one on one. And we'll actually look at their prescription drugs, we'll enter that into the system. We'll also enter in whatever pharmacy they like to use. We enter in, you know, where they live by their zip code. And so what happens is the system will populate options for them based on their drugs and where they live and where they'd like to shop. So that helps them to see like, you know, if they go to a one store or one chain over another, what the pricing differences are, and can help them to make better decisions on their healthcare costs.

Theresa Freed  05:51

And so Medicare enrollment is something that you have to do new every year, right? And your circumstances might change to like your health may change, your prescription drug list may change. And so those are all things that I'm sure you're looking at when they come for open enrollment, right?

Denise Dias  06:06

Correct. There's parts of Medicare, Medicare A, B, and Medigap, traditionally, you enroll and you're done, okay. But like the Advantage plans, people that are on those, or if they have a standalone Part D drug plan, yes, they need to look at that every year, because it changes every single year. And you know, it does, it is, you know, during open enrollment, you can make a change, there's no penalty to make a change, some people have that, you know, idea that they can't do it, because they'd be penalized. Now, you can change in and out of a drug plan, you know, every single year if you want it to, and many people that are that are really conscious of their medical expenses will actually look at it every year to make sure that they're in a plan that saving them the most money. Last year, when I worked with people, I worked with about 100 people last year, you know, with the pandemic, of course, my numbers were down, but of those people, the average savings was about 19 $100 for the year. So you know, for someone that's retired and on a fixed income, you know, a couple $1,000 that's definitely like a windfall for many of them. So it's, it's really important that they do take the time to look it over.

Theresa Freed  07:33

And so just when you talk about that amount of savings, what is the reaction you get from some of your clients who are realizing those savings?

Denise Dias  07:43

Yeah, it is, it's, it's really kind of a cool experience, to be honest with you, because sitting there and helping someone find $2,000 in savings. You know, I've had one lady say that she could actually go out and, you know, enjoy an evening out or whatever, where before, she didn't have the extra funds to do those kinds of things. I've had many say that, by looking at their medical costs, they can actually afford their medicines, because we know that many older adults sometimes struggle to pay for their meds. And by being able to be in a less expensive drug plan. They're able to afford their meds, but then also afford other things, you know, that they want to do and enjoy. So, you know, hopefully most people don't have to make the choice between medicine and food. But it does happen, you know, yeah. Where they have to make those choices. Yeah.

Theresa Freed  08:43

It's amazing that you guys were able to help people in such a huge way. And I think you've done a little bit of math, is that right on sort of the total cost savings that that your program has been able to achieve. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Denise Dias  08:58

Yeah, so last year, of course, during open enrollment, we saved like $210,000 right after open enrollment ended, I had a client that wanted some help, they had a new drugs that their doctor really wanted them to take. And it wasn't on any formulary. So we looked at the cost of the drug, and it was like $400,000, you know, which for a lot of us, I can't imagine a prescription being that expensive. But like I said it was a new experimental drug. And their doctor felt like they really should be taking that. So we looked at what options would be available if they did change their drug plan. So they reduce their costs from that $400,000 figure down to like 9000. So you know, huge difference in cost, but by getting it reduced, even though $9,000 for dry. For one drug sounds crazy, there are assistance programs that can, you know, help them to be able to afford that prescription at a lesser rate, you know, so, you know, that was definitely one huge savings for one person. But like I said, you know, even a few $100, or a couple $1,000 is really important for our senior population to be able to afford, what they want and what they need.

Theresa Freed  10:32

Yeah, absolutely. And I imagined with this population to you, do you work with caregivers or, you know, family members who are helping the older adults? And how does how does that work?

Denise Dias  10:43

Yeah, so many times, I'll have a caregiver contact me because, you know, they're helping mom or dad out, and their costs of their health care is just out of control. And they want to know what they can do to kind of rein in some of those costs. So I'll sit down and talk to them about what their options are, what changes they can make. And so many times, we're able to find a way to save them some money, or give them some suggestions of steps they can take to help their parents out. So that's one thing that we do. We also like I also offer educational programs year round, because, you know, people retire all the time. And, you know, usually at least once a quarter, I'll offer a class or extension, but many of our local county partners like the Johnson County Library, you know, I, even the employees of Johnson County have had me do programs for them as well. And they so appreciate being you know, having someone there that can help them walk through that Medicare process, and give them good, unbiased information, not pushing them into something that they don't fully understand. So many times, I hear Thank you for helping them to kind of, you know, break it down, simplify it, and make it understandable for them. So they so they can make a good decision for their health.

Theresa Freed  12:16

So right, yeah, absolutely. And I know you have some courses coming up, you want to share some information about that.

Denise Dias  12:22

Yeah, we do have another course coming up in November, it's free, I've been offering over Zoom. So many times, our older adults, or people that are transitioning out of the workforce, kind of like that option, they can go home, take off their shoes, and, you know, sit there for an hour and listen about Medicare. So it's, it's really been a good thing that the pandemic has, like, caused us to kind of move to Zoom, because many of my participants like it better than in person, which is kind of funny, but they do. And my numbers of people signing up for classes have increased dramatically, you know, we I wouldn't have had a space to offer a class to 70 people, you know, because I would have had to cap it at like 40. So it's interesting how even people like to do that over Zoom in the evening. So that's just one thing that I do. The other thing the pandemic has led to, I guess, is, last year, of course, we didn't meet with anyone in person. We did it through Zoom, we did it over the phone, sometimes email or through the mail service. This year, we're offering all those things we are doing in person, counseling sessions, of course, everyone is masked. And we have like a big screen TV on the wall where I can plug in my laptop to that TV. And the beneficiary can sit there and look at the same things I'm looking at on a big screen and you know, can answer get their questions answered, right there on the spot. So that works really well, too. It's a free service that I offer takes about an hour and we can kind of review all your Medicare coverage, your prescription drug coverage, and hopefully, you know, find a way to save you some dollars.

Theresa Freed  14:27

Absolutely. And so what are people needing to bring with them to their appointment or have ready to make sure they get everything completed on time and during that appointment?

Denise Dias  14:36

Sure, sure. I actually have a Medicare worksheet that's available, we can mail it to you, you can pick it up, it can be emailed whatever way or method that works best for you. And that worksheet kind of helps to you know, organize all the things you need for your appointment. So probably the big piece of that worksheet. Is your prescription drug list your dosage information, you know, if you take insulin, how many pins you use per week, that sort of thing. So it kind of helps to put all that information together so we can have what we need to quickly do a counseling session, or a review of your advantage or prescription drug plans. Yeah.

Theresa Freed  15:25

And so from the time that you fill out all that paperwork, and I imagine it's all digital, it's done online. But when do you do the recipients find out if they've been approved and actually start receiving that coverage?

Denise Dias  15:38

So coverage, of course, you know, now's the time to be reviewing it, they can sign up anytime between October 15. And December 7, that coverage will automatically start January one of 22. So, but they'll know immediately, what options are available to them if they're sitting with me doing a counseling session. If not, I can usually turn things around within about a week's time. Hopefully, the male will keep up with me this year. But you know, that's one thing that I tried to do is, is turn those things around very quickly. Typically, if you call me today, I can probably work you in, you know, the following week, so there's not a big lag time between asking for helping and actually getting it.

Theresa Freed  16:31

Perfect. Alright, so the most important question is how do people reach out to you to make those appointments.

Denise Dias  16:38

So you can do a couple of things you can call me at the extension office here, and that number is 913-715-7000. That's one way. You could also send me an email my email address is [email protected]. Those are probably the most common ways that people contact me and arrange for either, you know, an appointment or arrange to have a worksheet reviewed and suggestions sent to them. So yeah, I'm ready and willing and able to get busy. Like I said, we do now have other Johnson County volunteers in the Schick program. The cool thing about that is they're kind of scattered around the county. We have one at Matt Ross, one at Meadowbrook, we have one at Church of the Resurrection. We have people at the Jewish Family Community Services, you know, and of course, me in Olathe, there's a couple others in the Olathe area as well. So we've kind of got people scattered around and can, you know, if you can't travel, then hopefully, there's somebody close by that we can hook you up with and, and help get you the help that you need. The other thing that I do as well is sometimes like for independent living facilities, I'll go and actually go out to their facility and look at drug plans of the people in that facility and spend a day there helping them out. So I've done that too. So even if people are not able to get to me, I find a way to get to them to help.

Theresa Freed  18:30

Wow, okay, well, I'm sure you're going to be quite busy over the next couple of months helping a lot of people because when people hear how much money they can save, that's pretty attractive reason to, to make an appointment I bet. Definitely. All right. Well, thank you so much for all the great information and we'll of course include your phone number and that email address in the show notes of this episode.

Denise Dias  18:51

Thank you so much.

Theresa Freed  18:53

All right, and thanks for listening.

Announcer  18:56

You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at JoCoGov. For more on this podcast visit Thanks for listening.

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