by Nancy Lund

Ever had the impulse to say “What a great idea!  Glad somebody thought of that!”  Well, that was exactly what I said when I learned about HICAP.  The initials describe what it does – Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program.

MediCare, MediCal, Medicaid, Medi-gap, Medicare  supplement , Medicare Advantage–these are not words we learned in school.  And that is where HICAP comes in.  Its sole purpose is to  help seniors  cope with the complicated and confusing world of health care insurance.  HICAP has no axe to grind, it is non-partisan and non-political.  And best of all – it is free!  In Plumas County the toll free number is 1-800-434-0828. In Lassen County call 530-223-0999. In Sierra County call 1-800-434-0222.

HICAP holds regular informational meetings but you do not have to wait for one.  If you have a question call the toll free number.  When you call HICAP you will be referred to someone who can answer your question –or, if you like, will set up an appointment with a HICAP volunteer who will sit down with you and explore your various options.

HICAP  volunteers not only know the basics, they are always up to date on any changes which have been made.  These men and women are adept at searching the internet,  They can compare insurance policies — what they will cover and what they won’t cover, as well as their premiums.  They can show you which drug companies  operate in our area and which pharmaceuticals they cover.  HICAP can help you determine if your income qualifies you for help toward your Part B deductible  (2009 legislation  added $562.5 million to the program.)

Are you one of those seniors who have health care coverage through retirement?  In most cases this is better than purchasing a plan  as an individual.  But you still may have  questions which HICAP will be happy to answer.

When it comes to drug plans you are entering an area that is extremely complicated.  Not only are there different companies but each company may offer an array of different plans, a different list of which prescription drugs it covers, with varying prices and varying co-pays. HICAP has helped many seniors get the drugs their doctor thinks best for them, when earlier denied.

Perhaps you are one of the healthy seniors who has no need for a drug plan at this time.  But there is a penalty for those who do not opt for a drug plan when they are eligible to do so –HICAP can point out your options.

HICAP is especially valuable for those seniors who are thinking about assisted living facilities or long-term care.   HICAP not only has a list of facilities in our area, the volunteer can show you their costs,  their state rating, what complaints, if any, have been made against them .

HICAP is dedicated to fighting fraud and abuse and has won court cases where seniors have been over-charged  or charged for services they did not receive.  But we as consumers have responsibility, too.  We need to be alert in protecting ourselves.  Keeping a record of all our medical appointments makes it easy to check all bills as to the dates and procedures listed.   Hopefully, we have asked all providers for their fees ahead of time, so we will not be surprised when we get the bills!

HICAP offers the following advise:  Don’t give out personal information to marketing representatives.  Don’t give out your Social Security/ Medicare Number over the phone. Onesure Insurance agents are prohibited from calling before 8: 00 A.M. or after 9:00 P.M.  If you get repeated unsolicited calls from an agent you can tell him that he will be reported for using improper methods.  Do not pay an agent to find the wheelchair, bath chair or commode you or your loved one may need.  Such items are handled by certified suppliers of durable medical equipment and may be reached directly.

There’s more to HICAP than I can cover in this space so I urge you to keep those numbers handy and call them when you have a question.

Nancy Lund is the Chair of the Plumas County Commission on Aging.
She represented this area in the California Senior Legislature from 1984 to 92 and served on the California State Legislative Committee of the AARP.