St. Croix Virgin Islands seniors on Medicare will soon have a volunteer body of trained Medicare/Medicaid counselors to help them navigate the ever-growing maze of Medicare, Medicaid and other insurance options and issues. St. Croix Volunteers began classes under the tutelage of the Virgin Islands State Health Insurance Program (VISHIP). The new Counselors began their training in late May and completed their intensive training program in late June.
When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicare into law on July 30, 1965, the program was supposed to be a tremendous help for Americans age 65 and older. When launched the two-part program covered hospital insurance (Part A) and optional medical coverage (Part B) which paid for a variety of services including doctor’s office visits, laboratory fees, and medical equipment.
Most Americans and Virgin Islanders continue to rely on Medicare for the majority of their healthcare coverage after age 65. But many have felt uncomfortable or even unable to make the myriad of decisions needed to take advantage of all the options or appropriately utilize all the benefits under this program.
To combat the problem seniors are having with navigating the program, volunteers on the island of St. Croix were part of a pilot program that will develop a cadre of well-trained Medicare Counselors certified by the Centers for Medicare/Medicaid (CMS) who will work under the supervision of the SHIP office staff to help Medicare beneficiaries to understand their choices.
The training process focused on the seventeen modules dividing them into two parts to help hone each volunteer’s Medicare/Medicaid knowledge. The objective of the course is to train volunteers to assist Virgin Islands Medicare beneficiaries who are uncertain about making these critical decisions; to help individuals access information needed to use their health insurance wisely and effectively; to understand how the Medicare Prescription Drug program works; how Medigap plans can assist with paying for health care needs; and every beneficiary’s rights under the Medicare/Medicaid programs. Volunteers were also have trained on the coordination of benefits and how various programs work together and where to refer beneficiaries for the most appropriate assistance to help solve their health insurance coverage challenges.
The training program is ongoing. While the first project was begun on St. Croix, it will be expanded territory-wide by December 2014. Participants must be between the ages of 45-60; be willing to attend classes for three hours twice each week for four weeks, and sit the Medicare Certification exam at the end of the training period. Classes are open to social workers, hospital and physician office staff, Senior Medicare Patrol volunteers, and other individuals.
The current volunteers participating in the classes will be trained and ready to begin assisting individuals long before the October Open Enrollment period when beneficiaries can make desired plan changes. If you would like to be considered for the next session of this very important class, please contact the VI SHIP office on either St. Croix or St. Thomas for more details at (340) 772-7368 for more details or visit the AARP website at www.aarp.org/vi.