As individuals retire or age into Medicare, their insurance situation can change dramatically. There are a multitude of options open to those with Medicare. The terms are different, the prices are different, the products offered are dramatically different each year.
The purpose of this column is to give those who are eligible for Medicare, or soon to be eligible for Medicare, some understanding of their insurance options and how it could impact their health and finances.
These questions and answers are meant as a guide to help you understand the complex questions you are now thinking about. Each individual's specific situation may create a different solution. You shouldn't necessarily do what your friends, family and neighbors do.
Q: I am trying to help family and wondered if there is a website that could help me with this task? Can we apply online for some benefits or do we need to apply at each office?
A: First thank you for the help. I am always so pleased to talk with someone who is helping those in need. Sometimes helping someone learn about benefits gives them the hand up they need to stay successful. There are a lot of seniors in our region, and there are definitely not enough of us in the field to help all of them. We need people like you in our neighborhood.
I believe the information you are looking for is available on a site I myself learned about and use regularly. The site is www.mybenefits.ny.gov. This website is a warehouse of information regarding entitlements, benefits and many other programs. This allows you to research a large number of programs available in New York state. This site is designed to inform you about benefits, determine your eligibility and apply all in one place. This can be done 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That is the reason we all love the Internet isn't it? We can do things: shop, chat, write and learn when it is convenient for our schedule. We are not restricted to the hours posted on the front door, or the fact that it is a legal holiday. I know from working full time it is sometimes hard to take care of my own personal business because I am busy taking care of those things for others.
The list of benefits/programs and services on this website is impressive. For assistance programs it includes: SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - formerly Food stamps), Temporary Assistance, HEAP, WIC and school meals. Health insurance products include: Medicaid, Child Health Plus, Family Health Plus, HealthyNY and EPIC. This website also includes: Tax Credits, Earned Income Credit, Child Dependent Care, Non-Custodial Parent, Prescription Saver programs and Veterans Affairs information. This is a birth to death list of entitlements that could help everyone with these types of questions. I of course always slant toward elder issues, but anyone wanting information on programs could use this website. You will come away learning a lot, in a short amount of time.
There are two particular tools I like on this site. The first is the "Am I eligible?" tool. This tool (button) allows you to put in some basic and some rather specific information regarding your situation. This information is then compiled into all the available programs. At the end of filling in your data you are given a list of benefits you may be eligible for and how to go about getting them, and also benefits you "might" be eligible for if further information was disclosed to the appropriate agency. It also includes a list of benefits you do not qualify for.
I like this tool a lot because you can punch in the information once, and then it is used to determine eligibility for a number of programs. Then you can further review the programs and determine which is appropriate for your situation.
The second tool is "Apply for benefits." This tool allows you to answer all the questions that would be on a written application, and then it is electronically sent to the local agency that processes these applications. The application is reviewed, and either a phone call or a face-to-face appointment is made to review any necessary clarifications. This online application can be saved for future reference, printed out in hard copy to refer to later and updated at a later date with corrected information.
This second tool, the actual application, takes a bit longer to use, but cuts down on "waiting time" in offices around the county.
For anyone who has taken a survey online, it is an easy-to-use and a logical process. I am very impressed with how it works. I have used it a number of times when I am trying to help someone who is not comfortable with the Internet. I simply type in their information as they give it to me. This allows them to quickly apply for those benefits they feel they might be eligible for and allows me to type instead of write the answer. ( I type much faster and neater than I write.)
This website also uses the latest figures for income and eligibility. So if you have printed information you are referring to and don't know if it is the most current information, this website will have that most current information available.
This website also has extensive information for all of these benefits. Frequently asked questions and other useful links are available.
Good luck. I know "myBenefits" is on my list of favorites.
Janell Sluga is a geriatric care manager certified and works for Senior Life Matters, a program of Lutheran Senior Housing, and has worked in Chautauqua County with seniors for more than 18 years. She is HIICAP (Health Insurance Information, Counseling & Assistance Program) counselor-trained by Office for the Aging. She does not sell insurance or represent any insurance company. She is an unbiased source of insurance and education to help seniors choose the best option for them.