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It’s important now more than ever to understand Medicare technology

William C. Lane, PhD

February 23rd, 2020

Rome Sentinel


In July, 1965 under the leadership of President Lyndon Johnson, Congress created Title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide health insurance coverage to all citizens aged 65 and over.

Everyone who was receiving Social Security was automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A. But millions had to be contacted and provided information in order to enroll in Medicare Part B.

According to Social Security records, by the end of 1966 over 19 million people had been enrolled. In addition, every hospital, home care agency, nursing home and individual physician had to be contacted and certified to receive payments from Medicare.

The certification standards included an agreement requiring all provisions to abide by the recently enacted Civil Rights Act. This requirement caused some providers, especially in the South, to refuse to participate in the Medicare program. All these enrollment activities were conducted without the aid of computers, e-mail, websites and cell phones.

Today everything has changed. Not only has Medicare embraced technology but so have many beneficiaries.

Older adults keep pace with technology. According to an article by Britttne Nelson Kakulla, which appeared in the January 2020 issue of AARP Research, during this past year “51 percent of older Americans say they bought some tech product.” Smartphones were the most purchased form of technology followed by computers, including laptops. In addition, older adults use social media on a regular basis. According to Kakulla, the most used platform is Facebook.

Medicare moves into technology. Probably the first move into Medicare technology that most beneficiaries are familiar with is Plan Finder. When Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage was originally proposed by President Clinton his Democratic initiative was essentially a straight forward “one-size-fits-all” proposal. When Part D was finally passed in 2003 under President Bush, the Republican plan contained deductibles, co-pays and the now famous “donut hole.”

Medicare developed a program to assist counselors in enrolling consumers into the best Part D plan. That program, known today as Plan Finder, is now widely used by enrollees as well as counselors. Getting to Plan Finder is easy, just go to www.medicare.gov and follow the directions.

One change that occurred this year has caused some difficulty to many consumers. HIICAP counselors from several counties have told me that the necessity to create a Medicare account was causing problems for both consumers and counselors.

If you do a search on Plan Finder you must create an account in order to save your search information. This has been especially difficult for counselors who work with clients on several occasions. Nevertheless, Plan Finder remains an important technological tool that is sure to be used by an ever-increasing number of Medicare beneficiaries in the future. And, HIICAP counselors remain experts in helping you to navigate the system.

“What’s Covered” app. Last year CMS launched a new app giving consumers direct access on a mobile phone or tablet to some of the most-used content on Medicare.gov. The app, which applies only to Original Medicare, allows you to download accurate information about your coverage while you are seated in a doctor’s office, hospital or anywhere when you have questions. The app is part of the eMedicare initiative which was launched in 2018.

The eMedicare initiative is designed to provide beneficiaries with better ways to evaluate Medicare coverage options and costs. It is also part of an effort to provide consumers with the ability to compare costs of procedures done in a hospital as opposed to an ambulatory surgical center. Consumers are also able to estimate their out-of-pocket costs. The What’s Covered app is available for free in both the Google Play and the Apple App Store.

Adding an authorized representative using Medicare.gov. Would you like a trusted family member or caregiver to be able to call Medicare on your behalf? Unless you provide Medicare with written permission, CMS can’t give out your personal health information. There are two ways to give permission:

Print and complete form CMS-10106 “Authorization to Disclose Personal Health Information” and mail it to CMS. The form consists of approximately six questions on two pages as well as a third authorization page. If you download the form from the CMS website the form package also contains an additional five pages of instructions.

If you have a Medicare Account you can go directly to your account and complete and submit the form online. It only takes a few minutes to complete.

Who do I contact in Oneida County with Medicare and other health insurance related questions? The Fall Open Enrollment Period (OEP) ended on Dec. 31. However, there is currently another OEP which ends on March 31 that allows you to make some changes to your Advantage Plan.

Also, throughout the year those turning age 65 need assistance in selecting and enrolling in a Part D plan and making other choices related to Medicare coverage. The Oneida County Office for the Aging/Continuing Care/NY Connects Health Insurance Information, Counseling and Assistance program (HIICAP) offices are open year-round to provide assistance to answer all of your Medicare questions. HIICAP offices are found at the following locations:

Copper City Community Connection, 305 E. Locust St., with hours of operation on Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Consumers are seen on a “first come, first-served” basis, so call the center at 315-337-1648 to see if there are long wait times.

North Utica Senior Citizens Community Center, 50 Riverside Drive, Utica with hours of operation on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Consumers are counseled on a “first come, first served” basis, so call the center’s HIICAP program at 315-724-8680 to see if there are long wait lines.

HIICAP services are provided by Oneida County Office for Aging and Continuing Care/NY Connects.

Anyone with questions about HIICAP, including issues with your Medicare Advantage Plan, should call the program directly at 315-798-5456 and press 4 in the choice list. It will direct you to someone who can assist you.

Dr. William Lane is the owner of William Lane Associates, a gerontological firm located in Homer, N.Y. He writes a monthly column on HIICAP related issues for the OFA. Dr. Lane does not sell insurance, work for any insurance company or recommend any insurance products.