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William C. Lane, Special to the Daily Sentinel
Posted 3/31/23

Medicare enrollment continues to increase as an estimated 10,000 people across the nation turn 65 every day.

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Medicare enrollment continues to increase as an estimated 10,000 people across the nation turn 65 every day.

Over 3.6 million residents of New York are part of the 65,103,000 people who are currently enrolled in Medicare across the nation. This means that in Oneida County, as well as in Madison, Lewis, and Herkimer counties, there are a substantial number of older adults who are enrolling in Medicare monthly and are unfamiliar with the HIICAP program.

What is HIICAP?

The Health Insurance Information Counseling and Assistance Program (HIICAP) is a state-wide network of programs generally located in area agencies on aging or selected non-profit agencies. These providers are contracted by the state to provide a wide range of insurance-related counseling services. HIICAP provides accurate and objective information, counseling, assistance with Medicare, private health insurance and related health coverage plans.

In Oneida County, HIICAP services are offered by the Oneida County Office for the Aging and Continuing Care/NYConnects. The contact information for Oneida, as well as Madison, Lewis and Herkimer counties is listed below. Here is a partial list of HIICAP services offered:

Education about original Medicare; information on Medicare Advantage Plans; assistance with obtaining a Medigap plan; help in selecting your Part D drug coverage plan; information about the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage (EPIC) program; information about Medicare savings programs; obtaining extra help in paying for prescription drugs; and accessing pharmacy discount programs.

  • What are some of the questions that a HIICAP program can answer for you?
  • What services are covered under Medicare Parts A and B?
  • What is the difference between original Medicare and a Medicare Advantage Plan?
  • I want to move from original Medicare to an Advantage Plan. What are my options?
  • My prescriptions have changed.
  • Can you help me find a different Part D prescription drug plan?
  • If I am still working when I turn 65, how will Medicare work with my employee coverage?
  • How do I go about selecting a Medigap or supplemental insurance policy?
  • My retirement income is not very high. Am I eligible for any extra help in paying for my Medicare or my prescription drug coverage?
  • I was recently in the hospital and was placed on observation status. What does that mean and how will it impact what Medicare pays?

The above are only a few examples of the many questions that HIICAP counselors are trained to answer.

Who is eligible to use the HIICAP program? The HIICAP program is designed to assist New York residents who are currently Medicare beneficiaries as well as those who will soon become Medicare eligible.

HIICAP also provides assistance to family caregivers and/or designated representatives for older residents who need assistance, but are unable to access those services themselves. According to the New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA), “HIICAP counseling services are funded through the Federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the State of New York” and are provided without cost to you and your insurance carrier will not be billed.

Who are the HIICAP counselors? Some HIICAP counselors are employees of the Oneida County Office for Aging and Continuing Care/NYConnects while others are volunteers. This pattern of using both trained counselors and volunteers applies to the other county programs. All the counselors, as well as volunteers, have one important thing in common ­— they are highly trained and receive periodic updates from NYSOFA every year. All the information they receive from clients is held in strict confidence. They will remind you to always protect your Medicare number as well as all other personal information.

During the pandemic, most programs moved to remote counseling services, either by phone or by Zoom. HIICAP programs have now resumed some in-person counseling. The full information for Oneida County is listed in the paragraph. If you call the main HIICAP number, in most cases you will be asked to leave your contact information on a voicemail and a staff member will return your call within 72 hours (3 business days). Counselors are available at the following locations:

Copper City Community Connection, 305 E. Locust St., Rome, will offer counseling sessions from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursday only. The HIICAP program will also be scheduling at Copper City.

North Utica Senior Citizens Center, 50 Riverside Drive, Utica. Hours have been expanded at this site. Appointments will now be accepted on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sessions are expected to last 45 minutes. Call the HIICAP office at 315-798-5456, selecting option 2 to schedule an appointment.

Contacting HIICAP programs in other counties. Here is the contact information for HIICAP programs in several counties that border Oneida County. You can arrange for consulting assistance at the numbers given for each county.

To reach the Madison County HIICAP program call 315-697-5700 and ask to speak to a HIICAP counselor. For Herkimer County, call Catholic Charities of Herkimer County at 315-894-9917. For Lewis County call 315-376-5013 and select No. 2 from the choice list.

Dr. William Lane is the owner of William Lane Associates, a gerontological consulting firm located in Homer. He writes a monthly column on HIICAP related issues for the OFA. Dr. Lane does not sell insurance, work for any insurance company or recommend any insurance products.


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