A Michigan nonprofit is helping residents navigate the Medicare system

by Gail Allyn Short

Choosing a Medicare plan can be an intimidating and confusing task for anyone, whether they are enrolling for the first time or are long-time recipients.

Each year, those who qualify for Medicare—adults ages 65 and older and individuals with certain severe illnesses or disabilities—must figure out which plan to choose, determine out-of-pocket costs and learn what prescriptions and services a plan covers.

But today, Michiganders using this federal health insurance program can turn to a free resource called the Michigan Medicare Assistance Program Inc. for help, a nonprofit health benefit counseling service that helps those eligible for Medicare navigate the complex Medicare and Medicaid systems.

Through MMAP, for example, people can query unbiased, certified counselors who can explain the Medicare jargon and the various Medicare plan and program options available to them.

“People can have the misconception that Medicare covers everything and that once they get on Medicare, they’re set. But there are limitations to the program,” says Jennifer Page, executive director of MMAP, Inc.. “Medicare beneficiaries are presented with multiple offers for supplemental programs and Medicare Advantage plans, and folks don’t always understand how all of that works.”

Jennifer Page
Executive Director, MMAP

To help figure it out, volunteer certified MMAP counselors around Michigan are on hand to explain Medicare eligibility requirements, the Medicare enrollment process, coverage options and which Medicare supplemental programs available.

“Our busiest period is during the open enrollment period, from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. The No. 1 question we get is, ‘What’s the best option for my expenses and coverage needs?’”

MMAP counselors also help people clarify doctor and hospital bills and Medicare Summary notices. They can even lend support to clients for Medicare claims and appeals processes.

“We’re saving people tens of millions of dollars a year just helping them pick plans that are right for them,” Page says.

The MMAP program primarily runs out of 16 Area Agencies on Aging across the State of Michigan, and other community partners organizations.

Page adds that MMAP puts volunteer counseling recruits through a strict screening process.

“One of our big stipulations is that they absolutely cannot hold an insurance license. We look for potential conflicts of interest with our volunteer screening process,” she says.

After a screening, MMAP counselors must complete an intense certification training on the Medicare program followed by an assessment and 18 hours of supervised counseling, Page says.

“The vast majority of our counselors are retired Medicare beneficiaries. Many of them came to us as clients, and it just clicked for them and they wanted to help someone else,” she says.

In fact, certified MMAP counselors who complete Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) training can even help victims of Medicare fraud and abuse. Specifically, they can help Medicare recipients detect, prevent and report acts of fraud.

“There’s also an education and outreach piece to SMP, reminding older adults to protect their Medicare information. Please don’t give your number out to anybody over the phone or email. And if you have, that’s a good example of a time that you should call the Senior Medicare Patrol number and get that straightened out.”

To find a local certified MMAP counselor, Michigan residents and out-of-state family members assisting Michigan residents can call 1-800-803-7174 or visit the website at www.mmapinc.org.

“It’s neighbors helping neighbors,” says Page. “It’s community focused. It’s talking to someone who understands, who listens to your questions and who can help you navigate resources in your local area.”