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Medicare, Now Less Complicated

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Medicare probably wins the prize as the federal government’s most complicated creation. (Well, either Medicare or the Tax Code.) Now, a program that helps beneficiaries better understand how Medicare works is expanding to additional states. And the program’s founders could use your help.

The program is called “Seniors Out Speaking.” Developed by the Medicare Rights Center, a nonprofit counseling, advocacy and educational group based in New York, SOS recruits older volunteers to teach their peers about Medicare. The brief presentations – called “Medicare Minutes” – address topics such as drug coverage under Medicare Parts B and D and programs that help pay Medicare costs.

SOS started in 2001 in Westchester County, N.Y. In the time since, the program has expanded to New York City, Kansas, Maryland and New Jersey. Now, through a project funded by Atlantic Philanthropies, SOS is moving into Alabama, Florida, Maine and Wisconsin.

The thinking behind SOS is simple, says Joe Baker, president of the Medicare Rights Center. “As the first baby boomers begin to turn 65, the need for clear, accurate Medicare information has never been greater.”

Indeed, about 47 million people already receive Medicare benefits. This year alone, more than 2.5 million people will reach age 65 and become eligible for their Medicare card.

That said, a new report from the Medicare Rights Center that looks at SOS notes: “While many sources of information and counseling exist to help individuals navigate Medicare, the program continues to change. As a result, consumers may not understand current Medicare policies and often seek help from friends, family and community-based organizations.”

The report – “Seniors Out Speaking: Peer-to-Peer ‘Medicare Minutes’ for Older Adults Nationwide” – is well worth your time. It explains how SOS works, outlines the program’s benefits and discusses educational opportunities for volunteer speakers and their audiences. As the Medicare Rights Center notes: “The flexibility of the SOS model makes it easy for partner organizations to replicate it in new locations.”

Perhaps you can do some “replicating” in your community.

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About Encore

  • Encore examines the changing nature of retirement, from new rules and guidelines for financial security to the shifting identities and priorities of today’s retirees. The blog also explores news that affects retirement, from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network and around the web. Lead bloggers are reporter Catey Hill and senior editor Jeremy Olshan. Other contributors include The Wall Street Journal’s retirement columnists Glenn Ruffenach and Anne Tergesen; the Director for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Alicia Munnell; and the Director of Research for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Michael Kitces, CFP.