Medicare Open Enrollment: COVID-19 Makes Counseling in 2020 Different for the Office for Aging Services

Submitted by gallagha on Thu, 09/24/2020 - 08:37


HIICAP Appointments to be conducted by Phone or Zoom for Medicare Open Enrollment


MAYVILLE, N.Y.:-- The Chautauqua County Office for Aging Services (OFAS) has announced some changes to its upcoming Medicare Open Enrollment procedures and Health Insurance Information Counseling and Assistance Program (HIICAP) appointments in order to protect its older clients who are most vulnerable to COVID-19.

While OFAS is not prohibited from meeting with clients if all the COVID-19 protocols are followed, it is recommended by the New York State Office for Aging (NYSOFA) that OFAS limit face to face visits to only those who cannot be served telephonically or electronically for everyone’s protection. 

“Normally we see over 900 people during the eight weeks of Medicare open enrollment, which runs from October 15 - December 7,” said Christine Cheronis, OFAS Medicare Health Insurance Coordinator.  “To keep everyone safe, we will be unable to accommodate as many people as usual but we have forged some new partnerships to ensure everyone in Chautauqua County who wants a one-on-one Medicare counseling session during open enrollment will be served.”  

At this point in time, there has been no extension to the Medicare Open enrollment period by the federal government, which oversees the Medicare program at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).  The enrollment period is still October 15 until December 7. However, people who have New York State Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage (EPIC) in addition to Medicare do have an automatic extension until December 31 to change their Medicare plan.  In some situations, this can be a good reason to enroll in NYS EPIC.  NYS EPIC also gives individuals the ability to change their Medicare plans in the middle of the year unlike many other plans that are locked in for an entire year.  This is important when individuals have a change in their health status or medications and find they are paying a lot more out of pocket than expected.  That is why OFAS’ Certified Medicare Counselors are available year round to assist clients during open enrollment and when they have a change in their health and find that their Medicare insurance is not meeting their needs.

Residents who would like to review their Medicare Plan through the Chautauqua County Office for Aging Services, need to:

        1. Call or email NY Connects at (716) 753-4582 or ccnyc@co.chautauqua.ny.us and request a Medicare Counseling appointment.  The NY Connects operators answer the phone lines between 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.  If the line is busy, leave a message with your name, phone number and request to setup a Medicare appointment.  If e-mailing NY Connects at ccnyc@co.chautauqua.ny.us , please put Medicare Counseling in the subject. 
        2. Make an Appointment: If you are already connected with our office, we will pass on your request to a scheduler who will call you back so you may choose an appointment time with a counselor.  If this is your first time calling, intake specialists will call you back to get some basic information so that we can set you up for an appointment.  Appointments will be given on a first come first serve basis but please be aware priority will be given to those who are currently in the OFA homecare program and those clients who have gotten their counseling previously through OFAS.  For those clients that we are unable to serve due to time limitations, we have several options for you to choose from to get your Medicare Counseling.  All of these options include “no charge for the service” but everyone is given the opportunity to donate so OFAS can continue to expand services to accommodate more seniors. 
        3. Get ready for your Medicare Counseling Appointment: In order to guide you to the best choice in insurance, our counselors need to know some very specific information about your health, income, lifestyle, and current insurance.  If you are married, they may need to know about your spouse as well even if your spouse is not eligible for Medicare.  All of your information will be kept strictly confidential. Before your appointment, we will send you a questionnaire to fill out with all the information we need.  It is helpful to mail or drop this to our office beforehand so we know everything is complete before your appointment and it allows us to do some pre-work to prepare for your appointment. 
        4. Your Medicare Counseling Appointment: Our HIICAP counselors will be conducting most consultations over the phone and through ZOOM via the internet.  It is best to take these calls at home on a landline for the clearest connection via phone.  If you are using a cell phone, get to the spot in your home with the most bars and stay put.  For Zoom, it is best to have your internet connection via a cable to your router rather than through WiFi.  Since we are doing back-to-back counseling sessions, you must be available for your selected time as we will have limited ability to reschedule missed appointments with so much demand.   For people with special needs that cannot be served via phone or the internet, we will have limited in-person visits. Please wear a mask or face shield to these.  If you do not have a mask, we can provide one for you.  Again, please be prompt for your appointment.  When you arrive, call our office main line so we know you are here and we will direct you when to come in.

In addition to this, the OFAS will be hosting “Medicare Mondays” on the Chautauqua County Office For Aging Services’ Facebook page to educate individuals on how to navigate the various topics related to Open Enrollment, Medicare Part A, B and D, Medicare Advantage Plans, Medigap Plans, and assistance programs that may help with costs relating to your medications.  There is also the Medicare.gov website that is maintained by CMS (Medicare) for individuals to log into, search the plans that are available for 2021, and enroll themselves. 

“We appreciate your patience and understanding during this very unique time in our history,” said Dr. Mary Ann Spanos, Director of OFAS. “We want all our clients and their families to know that we care about them and want to make sure we are doing everything we can to help them get the service they need.” 



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