Meet Jonathan Hodgkin, one of our dedicated State Health Insurance Program (SHIP) volunteers. Age Well’s SHIP program offers free and confidential health insurance counseling for Medicare beneficiaries. During the busy annual Medicare Open Enrollment period, volunteers like Jonathan help meet the need for Medicare assistance.
Hear from Jonathan Hodgkin on why he volunteers with Age Well’s SHIP program.
When did you start volunteering with Age Well?
I started volunteering in 2011, ten years ago. My wife was turning 65 and I was doing the research on what needed to be done to get started on Medicare. I contacted Age Well, or the Champlain Valley Agency on Aging (CVAA) as was known then, and they were really helpful in explaining the myriad of choices that had to be made. Once I understood everything, I realized how complicated it is to be new to Medicare and decided that, now that I understood it, I might be able to help others.
How do you assist people as a SHIP volunteer?
I volunteer during Medicare Open Enrollment from mid-October to early December. This is the time when people can change their Part D drug plans or Medicare Advantage plans. During this time, I and other volunteers, call people who have questions about their coverages for the new year. This often entails reviewing their current medications, discussing any assistance they may get from the federal or state government in paying for medications, and suggesting ways to save for the following year. Suggestions may include changing Part D plans, getting medications from a different pharmacy, or seeing if a generic medication may be substituted for a brand name one.
We are always careful to explain that we are not representing anyone in the medical profession, so any discussion of alternative medications includes the statement that one should confer with their doctor and/or pharmacist about any suggestions we may make. We try to be sensitive to the fact that people may like their current pharmacy and may not want to switch. When this is the case, our analysis and suggestions will reflect this. Recent retirees now tend to be more computer savvy, so we will explain how we complete our analysis using the Medicare.gov website so that they can do the analysis themselves.
During the past couple of years, as advertising for Medicare Advantage plans has become more pervasive, we are also able to provide guidance for those wishing to explore these plans. In general we do not make Advantage Plan suggestions because every person’s medical needs are different. Instead, we help point people to items they may want to consider about each plan before making a decision.
What do you wish more people knew about SHIP?
I think it is a wonderful program and I wish that more people would contact the program when they become eligible for Medicare. I know that during my working life, my medical insurance choices were limited, maybe 2-4 plans that covered most of my medical needs. Once I reached Medicare age, I had to face decisions about traditional Medicare and 20 or so different Advantage plans. If I chose traditional Medicare, I had to consider some 25 or so Medicare supplemental plans and maybe 30 Medicare Part D Drug plans.
Age Well is prepared to help navigate these new health insurance waters. I also think it is important for people to know that the SHIP program is not just limited to helping choose plans during open enrollment. The program also helps people who have problems with insurance coverages, disputes over claims, and dealing with Medicare fraud. The program can help in almost any situations when people are at their wits end about what they can or should do about health insurance.
Why are you passionate about volunteering with Age Well?
I have volunteered with a number of organizations over the years and find that I enjoy helping others on a one-to-one basis, if only to reassure them that the decisions they make are sensible ones. Almost everyone I talk to thanks me for the time I spend helping, and I am sure that this is the case for other volunteers as well. I find it a very fulfilling way to volunteer. I like knowing that I have made a difference to someone’s life, even if only in some small way.
Thank you, Jonathan, and all of our volunteers! You make our mission possible.
Age Well’s State Health Insurance Program (SHIP) can assist you with:
- Assessing eligibility for benefits
- Making informed decisions
- Knowing where to locate more help
- Protecting yourself against fraud