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New Insurance Exchanges Confuse Illinois Elders


Monday, September 23, 2013   

CHICAGO - October will be an important month for health care in Illinois and around the nation. Beginning October 1, people without health insurance will be able to sign up for coverage through new online health exchanges. However, according to associate state director Courtney Hedderman of AARP Illinois, all the publicity about the exchanges is confusing people who need Medicare.

"People are seeing those messages, like, 'Wait, do I need to do something?' And they don't," she said. "That has nothing to do with Medicare."

The problem is that on October 1 the online exchanges open, and then on October 15 the Medicare open-enrollment period begins. That's why Medicare is sending out thousands of brochures and training counselors to advise elders in Illinois and around the nation to ignore the online health exchanges. Instead, if they want to make changes or sign up for Medicare, they should contact the Department on Aging, their local Social Security office, or go to to find a counselor who can advise them.

Hedderman said con artists already have started trying to take advantage of the confusion by doing things like calling on the phone and pretending to be from Medicare or Social Security.

"People were calling, and they're saying, 'This is Medicare calling, and we need your Social Security number.' No, they already have your Social Security number," the AARP official said. "You don't need to be giving that."

During the open-enrollment period that starts October 15, Medicare recipients can review or change their supplemental coverage through the many counselors who are not trying to sell anything.

"If someone lives in the city, for example, they can call 311 and they will be connected to the Department on Aging. That's a trusted entity that has counselors that can help navigate all of this."

Hedderman said to remember that SHIP counselors are trained to help elders figure out Medicare. The acronym SHIP stands for the State Health Insurance Program, which offers free counseling for Medicare recipients and their caregivers through the Illinois Department on Aging. Illinoisans who are about to turn 65 should contact their local Social Security office to sign up for Medicare. They need to do that three months before their birthday because if they sign up later than that, unless they have other coverage, they may be charged higher premiums.

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