Volunteers help with health insurance | TheUnion.com

Volunteers help with health insurance

The number of people in this community that volunteer in various capacities is astounding. Without them, many Nevada County residents would not experience the quality of life they enjoy here. With them, the volunteers provide not only beauty and culture, but care and understanding.

The individuals who comprise the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program in Nevada County provide care and understanding for one of the hardest things to comprehend – health insurance.

Pat Maule, area coordinator for HICAP, leads a team of three other volunteers who help people deal with the maze called health insurance. Deciphering the small print on regular insurance policies and benefits is tough enough. Now the recent Medicare drug plan has brought new meaning to the word confusing.

Maule says, “Sometimes all the numbers just get to be too much. We did not design the plan; we are here to explain it.”

Without being political, without expressing personal opinions, Maule, Jim Olsen, V.C. Hinsdale and Chris Heisler disseminate information to those who are bewildered by numbers, charts, sections and subsections. They serve current Medicare beneficiaries, persons planning for retirement, older persons contemplating the purchase of health insurance and persons interested in coverage of future health-related costs.

All counselors have been interviewed, trained and have served an internship before being deemed a full-fledged HICAP counselor. Administered by the California Department of Aging through contracts with 33 Area Agencies on Aging, HICAP services are provided at no cost to beneficiaries. Our volunteers here in Nevada County are part of over 600 state-registered community counselors.

Margaret Reilly, program manager for HICAP services of Northern California, says, “The HICAP counselors in Nevada County, led by Regional Counselor Pat Maule, have a cumulative 15 years of HICAP counseling experience, and have made it a priority to learn all about the new prescription drug plan … (They) provide a wealth of information on a wide variety of topics affecting Medicare beneficiaries in Nevada County. On top of that, they are all wonderful people who are committed to giving back to the community.”

They certainly do give back. Maule, a retired school teacher, also volunteers at Empire Mine, and is a past president of that nonprofit. She and Olsen both volunteer with AARP’s Tax Aide program, helping seniors and low income individuals with tax preparation. Hinsdale volunteers at Friends of the Nevada County Libraries and especially enjoys working with the book sales. Heisler also volunteers with Hospice.

They’re proud of what they do, and rightly so. They help a lot of people.

Olsen tells the story of a client from a couple of years ago, a man probably in his eighties. While the man was in the office, Olsen spent much time on the phone, trying to solve the client’s various problems. When the client’s ride came to pick him up, he greeted her with, “We got it ALL straightened out!” Olsen says it made him feel good.

He said, “We often see folks who have slipped through the system’s cracks – just above the legal poverty level, but really struggling with medication problems, cutting pills in half to stretch them, etc.” Olsen says they are unaware of help that is out there. He calls them “a forgotten citizenry.”

All counseling is confidential, but without revealing her particular problem, Dorothea Scholin doesn’t hesitate to tell how HICAP helped her. She said that Jim Olsen was “very helpful and I appreciate it very much. He even came to my house one time. He just took care of it.” Scholin says that up to that point, there wasn’t really anyone who cared whether they helped her or not.

HICAP can offer help in getting legal assistance, help with collections, appeals of Medicare and plan decisions, and can assist with consumer complaints to federal and state departments. They can explain and help with choices relative to longterm care insurance. However, counselors do not sell, recommend or endorse any insurance product, agent, insurance company or health maintenance company.

But if anyone needs help understanding the new prescription drug plan, HICAP can explain it. The next public meeting has been scheduled for Feb. 25. Call HelpLine for specific information.

Maule says, “Explaining Medicare’s new prescription drug plan has been the most challenging task the volunteer counselors have faced. However, helping people understand the intricacies and benefits has been very rewarding for the four of us.”

If anyone can help unweave the tangled web of Plan D, it will be these four people. Call HelpLine to make an appointment. There is somebody out there who cares.


Pam Fortner is a freelance writer in Grass Valley. Her nonprofit spotlight appears monthly.

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