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Regional Archives The Altamont Enterprise, July 15, 2010

HIICAP offers free help

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

ALBANY COUNTY — Andrew Tinning is in a lot of pain. It radiates from his joints. It hurts to climb stairs.

But he has a sense of mission in his work as a volunteer for HIICAP.

That stands for Health Insurance Information, Counseling and Assistance Program.

“Part of why I got started with this,” he said, “is I have my own health needs to take care of. The way the government changes daily, you don’t know what’s going to happen. The other part is, it’s terrific to help others.”

Tinning, who has retired from his work as an alignment specialist for heavy-duty trucks, lives in Altamont. He has volunteered for five years at HIICAP, which is funded by the county and state offices for the aging.

“Many people are not aware of it, particularly seniors who might need help,” said Tinning.

He gave the example of a 94-year-old man from Knox, a retired mechanic. “He gets around himself but needs medical assistance. He lives on Social Security,” said Tinning.

Medicare automatically deducts $96.40 each month from Social Security payments, said Tinning. “But, because of his income level, he qualifies to get reimbursed for $96.40 every month,” he said of the Knox nonagenarian. “That makes a big difference.”

Tinning continued, “Many people are not aware of how the system works. Medicare can be confusing.”

First signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965, Medicare provides government health insurance for Americans 65 and older.

“Our purpose is to reach people who are struggling and need help,” said Tinning.

Some people are confused about their benefits. Others need help choosing the best plan. Some elderly people have trouble paying for premiums or for uncovered medications.

Many people faced with those concerns, Tinning said, call Medicare’s 800 phone number and are forced to navigate a complex phone tree. “By the time you’re done with the phone tree, you’re totally confused,” he said.

Instead, he advised, seniors should call 935-2307. “This is a local number,” he said.  “You will get one person that responds to the phone.”

That person is Margaret Moran, the only paid staff member for HIICAP; the other dozen or so are volunteers like Tinning, he said. “She responds immediately or gets back to you,” said Tinning. “It’s one-on-one. You communicate your concerns, and she gives you unbiased information. She lets you know what is available to apply for or she refers you to a person who can help further.”

Tinning stresses, “This is a totally free service.”

HIICAP also provides educational seminars. Topics covered include comparing private insurance plans to find which best fits individual needs; finding ways to afford coverage and fill Medicare’s gaps; and understanding what the 1-percent penalty for late enrollment means.

Albany County’s website says that an eligibility examiner from the Department of Social Services is on hand regularly at local town halls to help people fill out applications:

— Bethlehem Senior Center, the second Monday of each month, from 10 a.m. to noon; call 439-4955 for directions;

— Guilderland Town Hall, on the third Thursday of each month, from 9:30 to 11:30; call 356-1980, ext. 10487; and

— Hilltowns at the Helderberg Senior Center on Route 32 in Dormansville, on the second Wednesday of each month from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; call 797-3652.

 “Medicare is so confusing,” Tinning concludes. “It’s a vast thing. HIICAP helps you navigate the system.”

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