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Inside The Senior Alliance: MMAP Open Annual Enrollment with David Linden (Ep 38)

Jason Maciejewski (00:00):
Welcome to Inside The Senior Alliance, a podcast exploring resources and issues in the field of aging. I’m Jason Maciejewski, CEO at The Senior Alliance, the Area Agency on Aging serving Western and Southern Wayne County. Joining me today is David Linden, one of our Michigan Medicare Assistance Program counselors. We use the acronym MAP for the program. So David and I will probably be slipping into using that acronym, but I want to welcome you, David, to our podcast.

David Linden (00:26):
Well, thank you for having me, Jason.

Jason Maciejewski (00:28):
So the Michigan Medicare Assistance Program, or MAP has been around for quite a while, is really a key part of our agency and the work that we do and the community outreach but David, could you tell us what the Michigan Medicare Assistance Program is and how it helps older adults?

David Linden (00:45):
Okay. Well, Medicare designates an organization for each state, and the Michigan Medicare Assistance Program is the one that they designated for Michigan, and we educate and assist Medicare beneficiaries in a number of different ways. So there’s an office in Lansing that serves the whole state, and they contract with the local area agencies on aging and that’s why we’re with The Senior Alliance here in Western and Southern Wayne County. So how do we help the older adults? We do it in a number of ways. We will meet with people individually to do individual counseling. That’s particularly at this time of year where we go to a number of the senior centers in Western and Southern Wayne County and help people with Medicare open enrollment. We will also do counseling year around as people have questions or they have a drug their plan doesn’t cover or their income changes and they’re now wondering if they qualify for any assistance programs.

David Linden (01:45):
All of those things we help people with year around. And of course, new to Medicare people we help year around. We also give presentations, so we will go out to the various senior centers and make a presentation on new to Medicare or on the preventing Medicare fraud or on the Medicare Preventative Services program to help people be aware of what’s going on in those areas. And then there’s also outreach at various medical and health fairs that go throughout the year. Myself, I go to the Northville Senior Center on a regular basis, and most of the senior centers throughout cities, Western and Wayne, Southern Wayne County, we have a regular schedule.

Jason Maciejewski (02:26):
That regular schedule that you just mentioned is quite extensive. I think it’s 13 different communities that the MAP program holds kind of office hours at throughout the course of the year, typically during the months outside of open enrollment and I think it’s been a really great way for us to engage people where they are rather than having them come to some central location. And being out in the community has been a really good benefit for outreach and building that relationship with the MAP program. So I want to thank you for being part of that as well. I mean, it really is a key part of open enrollment, which we’ll get back to in a minute, but the MAP program itself saves older adults a lot of money by being able to understand their choices under Medicare and really make informed decisions. So last year the Medicare savings were quite substantial in our area. Could you talk about those savings and how many volunteers it takes to do this work?

David Linden (03:20):
Okay, well, I’m going take the second one first in that we have about 40 volunteers. Some of them work at other agencies and speak other languages like in Dearborn. There’s people that work at the agency there that speak Arabic and help that. We have a number of other translation services or people who speak different languages. And then there’s about 15 or 20 of us who just do counseling on a volunteer basis. We do have to be certified, we’re trained through the MAP program to Medicare specifications. We are certified and have to be re-certified every year. So those are the volunteer things. When we look at your drug plan or your Medicare Advantage plan, we put in your exact medications. Medicare has on their website a thing called the Plan Finder. We can compare plans. And so just this week I was in Livonia and we sat with a person and her program that she was in right now would’ve cost her $4,100 in drugs.

David Linden (04:26):
That’s 12 months of premiums, plus all the copays on the drugs. We screened plans, found an alternative, and saved her about $1,500. That doesn’t happen every time, but that can happen as part of the review. Overall, when you add up all of the savings we did last year, it came to about $800,000, a little over $800,000. So it’s significant money that stays, you know, when we’re not paying it to a drug company, it stays in our pocket and we spend it locally going to a restaurant or buying something at a shop or things like that. So it benefits the community as well as the individual.

Jason Maciejewski (05:04):
It’s quite amazing the amount of money that can be saved just by going through this MAP counseling session with one of our volunteers. Tell me about yourself. How long have you been volunteering as a counselor in the MAP program and what’s your experience been like?

David Linden (05:19):
I started about 11 years ago. I got interested because I was helping my elderly father and I had to learn about Medicare all on my own when I was helping him. But I also saw as he aged, he received letters. It was harder for him to understand it. He would understand individual parts of it, but putting it all together was hard and he would get confused over some simple things. So I helped him out with that. And I saw how much it relieves stress. The fact that you can know that you’re in the right program, you’re not missing something relieves a lot of stress. And so when I did hear about this program, I wish I’d have heard about it earlier and I was looking for a retirement volunteer project. I thought this would be a great opportunity to learn more myself and to help others.

David Linden (06:07):
And you can see it on the faces of people you’re talking with when they fully understand what the options are, that they’re not missing anything, that they’re in the best program. It really is reassuring. And that’s what we refer to as empowering seniors to make their own decision. We don’t choose a program for them. We educate you so that you can feel confident in your decision as to which program is best for you, which drug plan or which Medicare Advantage plan. And so seeing that in the people is very rewarding to me as a counselor, you really feel good that you’re making others feel good.

Jason Maciejewski (06:45):
That empowering of older adults is really a key part of what we do as an agency. And the Volunteer Corps in the MAP program is really key to that so I want to thank you for the work that you’ve done over the past 11 years as a volunteer and I was really excited to be able to talk to the Volunteer Corps a couple of weeks ago at the training they were having prior to open enrollment. It’s really a dedicated group of people that work in our program. And I’m also going shout you out and shout out the MAT program in general at The Senior Alliance because we’ve now won the MAT program of the year award in the state of Michigan again and that’s just a testament to the dedication of the Volunteer Corps we have here at The Senior Alliance. So congratulations on that award as well.

David Linden (07:28):
Thank you. And we, the volunteers really do enjoy each other’s company and we help each other out when there’s a difficult case and there’s a comradery amongst us. That’s a lot of fun.

Jason Maciejewski (07:40):
So let’s talk about open enrollment. It runs from October 15th through December 7th. This is The Medicare annual open enrollment period. And so for our listeners, could you explain what that annual open enrollment is and how it’s different than a general Medicare kind of sign up?

David Linden (07:58):
Okay. When you’re first eligible for Medicare, you have what’s called an initial enrollment period to sign up for part A, part B, and then a drug plan or a Medicare Advantage plan or a Medigap, whichever you’re choosing. But then in each year you have an opportunity to change that, and that’s what the October 15th to December 7th open enrollment period is. You can have changes to your health, you can be prescribed new drugs, you can have a drug that you were taking that you no longer need to take. So your list changes. And with that, you may have the opportunity to save money with a different plan. So we can review that on the plan finder, as I described, whether you have a standalone prescription drug plan or whether you have a Medicare Advantage plan. Some of the other reasons for changing your plan would be, particularly with Medicare Advantage plans, you have a network and your physician may have left that network.

David Linden (08:57):
So we would want, and if you want to keep your physician, then we would help find a Medicare Advantage plan that physician took so you could keep going to the same doctor. So we call these checkups where you come in, we make sure your drug list is up to date, and then we screen to see if you’re in the plan that offers the best coverage for the medications or in the Medicare Advantage case, your entire medical coverage, we make sure that is the best fit for you. Sometimes it’s a matter of saving money as we described before. And other cases it’s just keeping a doctor or getting some extra services that you need. For example, Medicare Advantage plans, some of them cover transportation. So in the past year, you may have had limitations – you may have stopped driving. And so having a transportation benefit is now important, much more important than it was a year ago. So we can help find plans that would better fit your changing situation. And that’s the purpose of the open enrollment from October 15th to December 7th. It’s the one time during the year, unless you have special circumstances that you can change your plan prescription Drug Plan or Medicare Advantage plan.

Jason Maciejewski (10:12):
And David, if someone wants to make an appointment during this open enrollment period, how do they do that? You know, where do they go?

David Linden (10:18):
The simplest way is to call our 800 number, and that’s 800-803-7174. Sometimes we’ll pick up right away. Other times you’ll leave a message and we can set up an appointment in a variety of ways. We can set one up at your local senior center to do face-to-face. If that’s not convenient for you we also do appointments over the phone and we can do appointments online. We would send you an email, it would have a link. And if you have your computer set up, you can just click on that link and we go into a program like Zoom. It’s not Zoom, but it is designed for doctors doing telehealth appointments. And so you can see me, I can see you, and more importantly, you can see all the webpages I bring up so that you can get fully educated about how the different plans would affect you. We have a number of different ways to make appointments. If you’re a regular visitor at your senior center, you can ask the senior center and they will tell you whether they are also maintaining a signup list. The best way is the 800 number, that’s 800-803-7174.

Jason Maciejewski (11:31):
And I would assume that it’s best for people to begin to address this question earlier in the process rather than waiting until the last, you know, the very end, that December 7th deadline.

David Linden (11:41):
Yes, for Medicare Advantage plans, you do need to check that your doctor takes the plan and sometimes, you know, you need to check that out. So it takes several days to do that. The other thing is if you have a complicated situation, we may have to do some research to make sure we give you an accurate answer. And so that can take a little bit of time. So it’s best to do it early in the open enrollment window and not wait just until December 7th.

Jason Maciejewski (12:10):
How does somebody volunteer for this program and what is that experience like?

David Linden (12:16):
Okay, there are two easy ways. One would be to call the number I gave before and say you’re interested in finding out about volunteering. You don’t have to commit. Just you’re interested in finding out about it. And our regional coordinator, Kari West, will probably give you a call back and fill you in on exactly what’s involved. The other way to sign up is the MAP website, mmapinc.org for mapinc.org. That will explain to you the general program statewide and they also have a button or an option for volunteers that people that might be interested, you can click on that and they will fill you in. That website will fill you in more on what’s involved. But basically you’ll get training and a chance to ask questions and get filled in on all the procedures. And after that, you’ll work with a more senior counselor in terms of the process of counseling. We really look to help out the new volunteers, make it as easy as possible, expand their knowledge and experience as you do counseling hands on but you have someone who’s helping you and making sure that all is well.

Jason Maciejewski (13:30):
One of the things that struck me about the training that you have to go through to be a MAP counselor is it is extensive. There is a process you have to go through, and I think that really lends itself to the credibility of the program that people know when they sit down with you or another one of our counselors, they’re really engaging with somebody that’s very knowledgeable and can help them really work through the process. So again, thank you for all the work that you do as a MAP counselor, and thank you for joining me on this episode.

David Linden (14:01):
You’re welcome. I enjoyed it, and it is a very rewarding thing to volunteer for this program.

Jason Maciejewski (14:07):
If you have any questions about services or programs or would like to volunteer at The Senior Alliance, you can call us at 734-722-2830 or email us at info@thesenioralliance.org. Information about our agency or the programs and services we offer can be found on our website at www.thesenioralliance.org. On Facebook, we can be located by searching for The Senior Alliance. Finally, our X, formerly known as Twitter handle is @AAA1C. I’m Jason Maciejewski. Thank you for listening to this episode of Inside The Senior Alliance.

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