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Senior scene

November 12, 2011

From the Office: Office for the Aging can help with heating, medical programs

Just two weeks ago the autumn leaves were at their peak. We had our Indian summer with temperatures in the upper- to mid-70s, leaf-peepers touring the beauty of the county and enjoying the sites.

Despite the warm days and sunny skies, Old Man Winter is just around the corner. The days are shorter and the nights are longer. Snow, wind chills and freezing temperatures will return sooner than we anticipate. This season is one of the busiest times of year for Office for the Aging. The phones are continually ringing inquiring about Home Energy Assistance Program, Health Insurance Information Counseling and Assistance Program and Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage.

HEAP is a federally funded program that may assist you with a one-time payment sent directly to your heating company to help supplement your heating expenses. The state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance automatically mailed out applications for the 2011-12 program during September and October to those seniors who received assistance last year. HEAP benefits through the Office for the Aging are available to anyone ages 60 and older who meet the income requirements. Homeowners and renters may be eligible for assistance

It is important that you complete the application, follow the instructions provided and return the completed application to the Office for the Aging as quickly as possible. The HEAP season does not officially begin until Nov. 16.

The early mail-out procedure will allow applicants to be processed and approved before the program starts up.

It is, however, important to remember that no money will be issued until the program officially begins in November and until federal funds are available.

Individuals who may be eligible for HEAP and did not receive an application by mail may still apply once the HEAP season opens after Nov. 16.

HIICAP can help with Medicare Open Enrollment, which started on Oct. 15. That is earlier than in the past years. The Open Enrollment period will also last longer to give you enough time to review and make changes to your coverage. But, also starting this year, you will need to make your final selection for next year's Medicare coverage by Dec. 7. This change ensures Medicare has enough time to process your choice so that your coverage can begin without interruption on Jan. 1.

It is important to make note of the changes in the Annual Enrollment Period to avoid missing the opportunity to choose options that may better meet individual needs. You may be asking yourself why, if I already have all my insurance options in place, should I worry about the Annual Enrollment Period. You might want to pay attention because plans change; their monthly premiums may increase, the co-pays may go up, the amount and type of coverage offered may be different or the plan may cease offering coverage. Take advantage of Open Enrollment and you maybe able to save money, get better coverage or both.

EPIC continues to be a state-sponsored supplemental insurance coverage program for eligible residents ages 65 and older.

Beginning July 1, EPIC expanded its $38.69 monthly Part D premium assistance to the annual income levels of $23,300 if single (it used to be $20,000) and $29,000 if married (that used to be $26,000). The EPIC deductible credit (up to $464) is eliminated, so members are responsible for meeting up to an additional $464 toward their EPIC deductible. Note: Those who have met their EPIC deductible will be required to meet up to an additional $464 before they can resume paying only EPIC co-payments.

Beginning Jan. 1, there will be additional changes to the EPIC program. EPIC will be free, having no fees or deductibles, and will pay Part D premiums for members with incomes up to $23,000 if single and $29,000 if married. All seniors must be enrolled in a Medicare Part D plan to obtain EPIC benefits and maintain coverage.

EPIC members will be responsible for their Medicare Part D deductible (if they have one) and Part D co-payments until they reach the Medicare coverage gap (doughnut hole). EPIC will provide supplemental coverage to lower out-of-pocket expenses for drugs that are first covered by Medicare Part D only when a member reaches the coverage gap. EPIC will also cover drugs in Medicare D-excluded classes purchased during the coverage gap.

Co-payment remains the same. You will pay only $3 if your prescription is below $15; $7 if your prescription is $15.01 to $25; $15 if your prescription is $25.01 to $55; and $20 if your prescription is more than $55.01.

Now is the time to plan _ first, by choosing your next years Medicare coverage; second, if you qualify for HEAP then complete the required application; and lastly, have a better understanding of the changes to EPIC members.

If you reside in Delaware County and would like further information on HEAP, HIICAP or EPIC or would like to talk with a representative, please call Office for the Aging at 746-6333 to talk with someone over the phone or to make an appointment. Our office hours are Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The office is closed from noon to 1 p.m.

Wayne L. Shepard is director of the Delaware County Office for the Aging. 'Senior Scene' columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/ seniorscene.

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