MONTROSE – The Baby Boom started officially in 1946, a year after the soldiers came home from World War II. That means the boomer vanguard have just become eligible for Medicare. And the rest of us are very nearly there.
How do you even begin to navigate the Medicare system? There’s help at the end of a phone line in Montrose, in the form of the SHIP program (Senior Health Insurance Assistance Program) and the friendly, knowledgeable voice of Mabel Risch.
Risch is one of four volunteers, trained at the state and federal levels, to help baby boomers who are about to turn 65 wade through their health insurance options. SHIP serves Ouray, San Miguel, Montrose, Delta and Gunnison counties.
Beginning three months before their 65th birthdays, seniors have a passel of questions to answer, including, according to Risch: Do you need to buy in? Are you still employed? If you’re getting Social Security already, Medicare Part A (hospitalization) is free and automatic; but do you need Part B (doctors, lab tests, etc.), which costs $99/month? Do you need a private “medigap” policy to cover what Medicare won’t? And what about Part D, for drug prescriptions?
Risch said the typical relationship with a client begins with a phone call: 970/249-9639 or 888/696-7213. “At that point, we may invite you in” for a meeting in person. (Their offices are at 121 North Park in Montrose.) “And,” Risch said, “we will encourage you to come to a seminar.”
SHIP offers a couple of free seminars a year on “Medicare and You.” The first this year is April 11 at the Oncology Center in Delta, near the hospital. The second is in Montrose on June 2, at 10 a.m. at the Library.
“We are not allowed to tell people what to buy, or whether to buy anything,” Risch said.
Asked about the Affordable Health Care Act now before the Supreme Court, Risch said she didn’t think it would affect Medicare much. “Most of the changes to Medicare have already gone into effect,” she said. Speaking about the Act’s mandate to have everyone insured by either a public or a private plan, Risch said, “As a citizen, I’m supportive of getting more people covered. It’s the one way to deal with the people who have suffered devastating illness or accidents. I’ve seen that over and over again.”
She’s seen it during her long career as a social worker, dealing with the uninsured. Risch was for years program manager for adult services for Montrose County. She’s retired now and getting “a little stipend, and all the coffee I want to drink” as a volunteer with RSVP, Retired Seniors Volunteer Program for Colorado West. The SHIP program is funded by Medicare. Grants from the Medicare budget go to the states, Risch said, and from there are distributed to local agencies.
She said, “The busy time for us is during open enrollment in the fall, up through mid-December,” when Medicare recipients can choose among the Part D (“D for drugs”) options. “We’ll look at people’s prescriptions and plug it into the national computer and come up with the best, the most cost-effective, plan.”
She also said she and her fellow SHIP volunteers “give smaller talks in the fall when they are most helpful, in the communities of Nucla, Ouray, and so on.”
In Ridgway, Mountain Medical Center’s FNP (Family Practice Nurse Practitioner) Dale Yokum applauded the services offered by Risch and SHIP. “A lot of people are coming up on 65,” he said. “There isn’t anybody in this community who does this kind of thing. Folks need help making sense out of the confusion.”